Spinning film and skimming books (18-19)


This is a light week for new creation for me, with the manuscript for Volume 1 needing to be totally put to bed so that the Haymarket production team can get to work doing the final page layout. Nevertheless, my mailbox provided a little bit of intellectual stimulation this week, with the arrival of a publication which I had never seen — and of which I had never even heard as few as six weeks ago.

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A new source for the socialist movement in California


Front page of the Jan. 5, 1901 issue of Advance….(I always knew that 7.5x-9.5x zoom lens would be good for something…)

This week’s new arrival is three reels of Advance, a socialist weekly published in San Francisco, filmed from the holdings of Harvard University. I first learned of the publication from an issue of its predecessor, The Class Struggle, which was preserved en toto in the Debs scrapbooks filmed for the Papers of Eugene V. Debs microfilm collection. These are rare reels, pretty much one copy out there, located at the filming institution, Harvard University, only.

The forerunner publication was known as The New Charter, a privately owned weekly edited by M.W. Wilkins, who moved to San Francisco in 1898. Based upon the publication’s numbering system, it appears that The New Charter was launched in the summer of 1894. The name of the paper was changed to The Class Struggle, not later than 1899. It was sold on Oct. 7, 1899 to a group of five San Francisco Socialists, headed by George B. Benham, who became the paper’s new editor.

This group of five sold the paper to the Social Democratic Party of California for $600 on June 23, 1900, with Emil Liess, a lawyer from San Francisco, named the new editor. Not long after, the name of the publication was changed to Advance.

At some point in 1900 a change was made, and the new editor was J.J. Noel, who remained on the job until the first issue of February 1902, at which time the faltering financial condition of the paper made it impossible to pay him for his editorial services, forcing his regretful departure. Noel was replaced by an unpaid three member editorial board including Cameron King, Jr. (later a very important figure in the Socialist Party of California), Mary Fairbrother, and a certain Ober. At the same time a move was made back to a broadsheet layout.

The first issue on the slim first reel is whole no. 318, dated September 8, 1900. The single 1900 issue is an oddball, however, as the core content of the reel begins with the first issue of January 1901, whole #335, and runs through the first issue of June, whole #356, uninterrupted. The film is so short that it easily could and should have been part of the following reel.

Reel 2 picks up where the first left off, issue #357 of June 8, 1901. The apparent cause of the split reel is a format change, with a move made to smaller paper stock, no bigger than tabloid size, and the four page layout expanded to eight.

Reel 3, marked by another change of paper size, takes the run to the end of 1902, with a couple of missing issues and some less-than-perfect physical issues with which they were forced to work.

The filming of Advance is first-rate, high-contrast work done in 2008, and the issues filmed appear to have been extracted from a bound volume and filmed flat — which is the correct way to do these things. Total tab for the three reels came to a touch over $250 and Harvard was very efficient in helping achieve replication of their holdings. The process between initial request and delivered film took about a month.

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So What Did We Learn?

Advance is an invaluable resource for the activities of the Springfield SDP in California. It also gives us another first-hand take on the Socialist Unity Convention of July-Aug. 1901.

The Debs-related content is as follows:

Carey of Massachusetts was chairman on Tuesday [July 30, 1901]. A capitalist lie about “repudiating Debs” was nailed and a telegram expressing “esteem and love” was sent, to which the following reply was received:

“The expression of the Convention is gratifying in the extreme. May a united and harmonious party crown your labors. Press reports do not disturb me. I am a Socialist. A thousand thanks to the delegates for their personal expression. But for illness in my family I would be with you.”

Nothing new there.

As for Theodore Debs’s report to the convention as National Executive Secretary of the Chicago SDP:

Secretary Theodore Debs next reported for the Chicago NEB. The report was a brief one and showed receipts since Jan. 1, 1901, of $3,707.01, and disbursements of $3,637.64. Liabilities for loans and salaries were stated at $1,083.55. He stated that a complete report would be given when the work of the convention is accomplished and his office transferred to his successor. He expressed his hope that unity would be effected and said that when relieved from the office he would not be a candidate for any official position in the party. (Source: Advance, “Organic Unity Achieved At Last,” Aug. 10, 1901, pp. 1, 4.)

There were two delegates from California, William E. Costley from San Francisco, representing the Northern part of the state, and Gaylord Wilshire of Los Angeles, representing Southern California. (The decision to send two regional delegates was made by referendum vote of the state party.)

Costley wrote a letter home after the close of the convention which was published in Advance, in which he noted:

…[A]t the beginning of the convention a spirit of cautiousness was shown by all parties represented. The adherents of the Chicago Board were instructed to report on every measure taken back to a referendum vote of their constituency, and they insisted that the parties vote separately on all questions of importance. This cautiousness finally gave way to a feeling of confidence on both sides, and after the first day’s session, unity was assured. (Source: Costley, “A Letter from the Convention,” Advance, Aug. 10, 1901, pp. 4-5.)

In reading the stenographic minutes, one is struck by this discernible shift in mood mentioned by Costley: an uneasy jockeying for position by the Chicago NEB at the opening of the floor debates, with Berger and Margaret Haile playing the most vocal part, before their deep uneasiness was finally buried beneath an overwhelming show of pro-unification sentiment.

No doubt the decision for equal representation of the parties on committees was the decisive factor in this transformation of the gathering’s tenor. This achievement of organizational trust was the big story of that four day event in Indianapolis.

By the way, Debs apparently only wrote one original article for Advance: “The Climax of Capitalism,” April 27, 1901.

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The Victor Berger Letters

Victor Berger Letter No. 1: The People’s Party Convention.


Victor L. Berger was a leading activist in the People’s Party during the first half of the 1890s, as this 1894 poster illustrates.

The letters of the Debs brothers for the years of Volume 3 (1897-1904) are few and far between — I have mentioned that several times. Another big socialist leader of the period, Morris Hillquit, has papers which begin only in 1902 or 1903, after all the first round of confusing factional action had already been resolved. Fortunately, the third big leader of the Socialist Party in this era, Victor L. Berger, also left a few pieces of political correspondence in the form of letters to his wife, Meta, which provide a glimpse at the backstage politics of the era.

First, here is a snippet written from the national convention of the People’s Party in July 1896.

Well, little Meta, I tried hard to get up an anti-Bryan combine. Succeeded, because circumstances helped me. Telegraphed for Debs. He promised to come, but hasn’t so far. Henry D. Lloyd, also one of our radical leaders and prominently mentioned in connection with the nomination has just left me. He is rather disgusted with the leaders of the People’s Party.

Whether Bryan will be nominated or not, I do not know. He is certainly very popular personally. And the leaders, seeing the party break up on account of the “silver question,” tried to “sneak under” in the new [progressive] Democratic Party. But the rank and file of our party, the so-called “Middle-of-the-Road” people stood it, like a stone wall so far; they don’t want to hear anything about Bryan….

If the People’s Party puts up its own candidate it means certain defeat to Bryan. If we endorse him, or rather if we also nominate him, it means certain victory. But it also means surrender of all our principles and the death of the People’s Party. (Source: VLB in St. Louis to MB in Milwaukee, July 21, 1896; in Michael E. Stevens, ed. The Family Letters of Victor and Meta Berger, 1894-1929. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1995; pp. 49-50.)

Debs never made his promised appearance at the 1896 People’s Party convention, instead sending a telegram instructing Lloyd and his cohorts to remove his name from consideration as an alternative nominee to Bryan. With no viable national “name” to put forward, the convention inexorably nominated William Jennings Bryan.

After that, Berger went 1-for-2 with his predictions — a worst of all possible worlds outcome in which Bryan failed to win and the People’s Party was essentially destroyed over its opportunism.

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Victor Berger Letter No. 2: Founding the Social Democratic Party.


Together with Debs and Morris Hillquit, Victor L. Berger (1860-1929) was one of the most important figures of the Socialist Party of America during its first two decades.

Another published letter was written on Day 2 of the June 1898 convention of the Social Democracy of America, a day and a half ahead of the split which formed the Social Democratic Party. The short missive is absolutely pregnant with hints about the undocumented corridor politics of the organization:

This is the slowest, most boring, and weirdest convention I ever saw. The whole convention has been dragged into the battle of the parties on the executive board, which for a long time had been waged in secret, and in fact without either side having issued a proper declaration of war. The battle cry is: Here Colony, there Political Action!

I am regarded as one of the leaders of the “Political Action,” or rather as the leader, although that is not what I want.

The main battle was about the committee for the drafting of the platform, or, expressed more correctly, about the election of the members thereof. The opposition had offered me a compromise, which I simply rejected, although thereby I would have been elected unanimously. I was elected in spite of it but with a very small majority.

Because of the colony swindle it could easily come to a split tomorrow, in which case however Eugene V. Debs will obviously go along with us. (Source: VLB in Chicago to MB in Milwaukee, June 8, 1898, in Family Letters, pg. 53.)

Berger was prescient about the forthcoming split and about where Gene Debs’s loyalties would lie — although EVD once again managed to miss the actual factional fireworks and dramatic foundation of a new organization in the dead of night, having taken sick to bed. Per usual.

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Victor Berger Letter No. 3: The Massachusetts SDP and Margaret Haile.

A third impressively relevant letter was written from Boston in January 1900 — after Henry Slobodin, Morris Hillquit, and the Volkszeitung dissidents had left the Socialist Labor Party, but before they had attempted to join forces with Berger’s SDP. Berger had arrived from New York City and already been given the grand tour of the SDP enclaves of Haverhill and Brockton, mill towns with socialist mayors:

The movement here is simply splendid, and within a few years we will be the second party in Massachusetts, i.e., the Democratic Party will be wiped out.

As to Margaret Haile, I only saw her once, but I will see more of her tonight at the meeting and the reception that is to follow. I also intend to make a short call at her home in Roxbury, one of the leaders of the Boston movement wants to take me out.

Margaret Haile looks fearfully old and wrinkled — I think she looks much older than she did two years ago; she dresses shabbily to the extreme, her gray felt hat, ancient and spotted and with two rooster feathers on it, is a sight, and when she took off her old brown cloak — the same evidently that she had worn for many years — I noticed that the lining was torn in a dozen different places.

I understand that she has lost the good place she has had, or that she has given it up in order to be able to give more time to the movement, and is working as a typewriter in a lawyer’s office. The pay there cannot be very much, I suppose, and she has to support herself and child…. (Source: VLB in Boston to MB in Milwaukee, Jan. 19, 1900, in Family Letters, pp. 54-55.)

It’s easy to dislike Haile for her right-socialist sectarianism. Berger’s depiction of her as an impoverished working mother who was truly committed to the cause makes for a useful counterbalance.

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Victor Berger Letter No. 5: Unity with the “Kangaroos.”


Meta Schlichting Berger (1873-1944) as she appeared in the late 1890s. After visiting the USSR in 1935 she moved into the Communist Party’s orbit.

Another letter has survived from March 8, 1900, written home from the Indianapolis first convention of the Social Democratic Party, which agreed with their Eastern counterparts, the Socialist Labor Party dissidents, to field a joint ticket for President and Vice-President in the 1900 campaign:

Concerning the convention: this time I saved the party in the literal meaning of the word. We are going to unite with the New York SLP but the name of the united party will be Social Democratic Party.

E.V. Debs will function as the candidate for the presidency, the candidate for the presidency of the SLP [Job Harriman] will be the vice-presidential candidate. The party will probably cast one million votes in the next election.

I, however, will withdraw after the election: that is now absolutely certain. Through the unification the party is becoming independent and strong enough to continue. (Source: VLB in Indianapolis to MB in Milwaukee [in German], March 8, 1900, in Family Letters, pg. 57.)

The big surprise here is the definitive nature of his assertion that union was forthcoming and the extreme emphasis on the name of the new organization, rather than its structure, organizational nexus, or any other question. This fetishization of the name goes a long ways towards explaining the “Manifesto of the National Executive Board” which effectively scuttled unity for a year — which put a hysterical emphasis on an alleged breach of faith over the name of the organization.

It was Berger who caused the rift, not Cox or Haile or Heath or Debs.

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Victor Berger Letter No. 6: The 1900 Electoral Debacle.

Berger was in Boston shortly after the city elections which shattered socialist hopes in Haverhill and Brockton. The letter illustrates that Berger was seeing the socialist movement as a whole in the process of being unified rather than as the subject of a factional war between rival enterprises:

I read in the Boston Globe that our party was snowed under in the election held last Tuesday in the towns of Massachusetts. John C. Chase and three aldermen were defeated in Haverhill, and only two councilmen elected. The Social Democratic mayor of Brockton got there by the skin of his teeth — a plurality of 35. 

[Frederic] MacCartney and some of the others who received me at the depot expressed satisfaction about it — Margaret Haile I haven’t seen yet, will see her tomorrow — they expressed satisfaction because Haverhill had gone over to the New York faction [Springfield SDP] and played the part of a socialist Mecca to the detriment of the movement of this country. 

But I take a different view of the matter. I am afraid of the loss of prestige for our party — besides, I would rather have seen [Rep. James F.] Carey, who is a conspirator and a mischief-maker, defeated and [Mayor John C.] Chase elected. As it is the real guilty person has been elected to the assembly in November, while Chase, who simply went with him because he dare not go against him, was defeated.

However, this may be one thing is sure: the prestige of Haverhill, Brockton, etc. has been diminished in this election while that of Milwaukee has grown considerably. I am not selfish enough to be glad of that, as long as the movement at large has not grown to my expectation. (Source: VLB in Boston to MB in Milwaukee, Dec. 6, 1900, in Family Letters, pp. 59-60.)

Again: Berger was not the extreme faction fighter here. This helps to explain why he was such a willing participant in the Socialist Unity Convention the following summer, while the rest of the Chicago NEB either unenthusiastically participated (Theodore Debs), acted as obstructionists (Haile), or boycotted the proceeding altogether (EVD, Heath, Editor Edwards).

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Victor Berger Letter No. 7: The Chicago January 1901 Snap Convention.


Elizabeth H. Thomas (1856-1949) was one of the key figures in Victor Berger’s Wisconsin machine. The independently wealthy Thomas was a chief stockholder in Berger’s publishing company and served as State Secretary of the Wisconsin party for two decades.

The January 1901 special convention of the Chicago Social Democratic Party remains wrapped in mystery. There are ample hints that the event was pre-planned ahead of the election with a view to delaying or halting the growing sentiment among the rank and file towards unity. Whatever the original intention, pro-unity sentiments rapidly overwhelmed those seeking distance from the larger and more vital Springfield organization, with a convention call for a Joint Unity Convention the end result of the gathering:

I know I am a base wretch for leaving my sweet wife and three darling babes for three days without any information from papa, but enclosed clipping will show you that I am very busy. I am as you can see the chairman of two committees; but I am a member of two other committees besides. Had very little rest at nights, I don’t believe I’ve slept five hours on an average.

The convention is a very hot one, all kinds of propositions of “unity” and reorganization are in the air and I am bitterly opposed by some of my “best friends” — Corinne Brown for instance. Your prediction that I may be forced out of the movement may come true. (Source: VDB in Chicago to MB in Milwaukee, Jan. 17, 1901, in Family Letters, pp. 60-61.)

This letter raises more questions than it answers but it indicates deep division over strategy moving forward among the leadership of the Chicago SDP, with some sort of fundamental issue dividing the Executive Board.

Unfortunately there is nothing from the July-August 1901 Joint Unity Convention. There seems a high probability that Meta Berger attended the event with Victor, thereby eliminating the need for a letter.

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Some words about the Debs biographers.


Some future Debs collector is probably going to be entertained with my brutalized copy of Salvatore’s book after I’m a dead guy.

I’m periodically sifting through several of the most important Debs biographies as I chronologically work through Debs’s output. I’ve always considered Nick Salvatore’s Eugene V. Debs: Citizen and Socialist (University of Illinois Press, 1982) to be the best of the lot and I haven’t come off that opinion. I usually hate writing marginal notes in books and only rarely do it, but I decided to have a dialog with the author in the margins of this  one and have been marking the hell out of my copy. I thought it was a super common title, but the joke’s on me, it’s gonna cost me $20 to get a clean copy for the shelf, and that’s without a dust jacket.

Salvatore is still living — and still teaching, as far as I know — but has blown off several of my emails and has never acknowledged the existence of this project with so much as a grunt or a shrug. A prominent historian has told me not to take it personally, that Dr. Salvatore doesn’t play well with others. This is unfortunate. His implicitly disrespectful attitude does add a little spice to my research — a little polemic fire in the belly is always a great aid to history writing, as anyone who practices the craft will affirm.

Honestly now: Salvatore is very, very strong for EVD’s early years. He, like absolutely everyone else, misinterprets Debs’s attitude toward socialist unity in 1901. He also does a far less satisfactory job covering the second half of Debs’s life than the first — but for the early material he is really good. Salvatore spends half the book to get to the turn of the century and then tries to tell the rest of the story in a little over 160 pages. While such a task can be done, as he demonstrates, it simply can’t be done well, as he demonstrates.


Worst. Dust. Jacket. Ever.

The favorite biography of my historian friend John Holmes — and a recent Haymarket Books reprint — is Ray Ginger’s The Bending Cross: A Biography of Eugene Victor Debs (Rutgers University Press, 1948). Speaking for myself, I absolutely can not get past the fact that there are ZERO footnotes in the volume — zip, nada, zilch, none. This deficit should have got the unpublished manuscript gonged by the Rutgers until it was fixed. It is an otherwise fine book, mind you, but no university press worth more than two shakes of iodized sodium should have accepted such a work unfootnoted. Bad, bad publisher!

Again, Ginger spends half his volume on Debs’s childhood and railway brotherhood activities, leaving a couple hundred octavo pages to tell the rest of the story. This, of course, is the same basic skew as Salvatore. My sense is that Ginger does a better job making good of this difficult, not to say impossible, task than does his literary successor, Salvatore. But this orientation nevertheless does mean that the early life story and union activities are again told relatively well, while the complicated later story is necessarily a hasty recounting.

The Debs biography that I liked second best going into this project, Bernard J. Brommel’s Eugene V. Debs: Spokesman for Labor and Socialism (Charles H. Kerr Publishing Co., 1978) has been pretty much gathering dust after I bumped into a couple howlingly wrong misinterpretations of the politics of 1899 to 1901. This book may yet be cracked open again as I reach Debs’s post-prison years — it appears that Brommel has done a good job with this material — but for the complex middle period of the Debs story this book is pretty terrible.


Bernard J. Brommel in 1978.

Dr. Brommel, a retired speech professor, is still living, now in his late 80s, I believe. I dropped him a letter informing him about this project. I’m not sure if he received it, but it didn’t come back “Return to Sender,” at least.

Here’s some audio of Dr. Brommel talking about his book in 1981. (P.S. Uh, no, Debs’s father didn’t “work for the railroad,” unless you count one or two painful days laying track…)

The other two heavily used volumes in addition to the Salvatore and Ginger bios are The Forging of American Socialism: Origins of the American Movement: The Impact of Socialism on American Thought and Action, by Howard H. Quint (University of South Carolina Press, 1953), and Ira Kipnis, The American Socialist Movement, 1897-1912 (Columbia University Press, 1952). Both of these are heads, shoulders, and belly-buttons above Salvatore and Ginger in telling the story of the formation of the Socialist Party and Debs’s place in the movement. (The Kipnis has been reissued by Haymarket, the publisher of the Debs Selected Works. Haymarket should work out a deal to reissue the Quint, I say again.)

Jack Ross’s The Socialist Party of America: A Complete History (Potomac Books, 2015) has also recently been added to my stack of my ready references. I use this one cautiously. Jack’s red-baiting call-out of Ira Kipnis’s politics is mockable and worthy of special rebuke. (The right/left/center split of the Socialist Party was a real thing, Jack, and Kipnis’ emphasis on the same — while perhaps slightly overdrawn — was not some kind of Bolshie plot.)

One gets the sense that this bulky volume (overly thick paper and large type was used by the publisher, a University of Nebraska Press offshoot), while unquestionably well documented, loses much of its utility owing to the tendentiousness of the historian. An excellent writer, Ross turns the twisting history of the Socialist Party into an entertaining tale for the general reader, and that’s fine, but one must be constantly vigilant as to where that reader is being led. The need to constantly acclimate oneself amidst the unceasing political spin does make one weary.

Of course, the Letters of Eugene V. Debs edited by the late Bob Constantine in three volumes must be mentioned as a constant ready reference. I can’t recommend these volumes strongly enough, even if the surviving body of Debs letters for the late 1890s and early 1900s is regrettably inadequate. That fact is no fault of Constantine’s. Indeed, all hail this scholarly masterpiece. Decoding Debs’s chickenscrawl handwriting is only slightly less difficult than trying to comprehend that of Karl Marx, and Constantine should have received some sort of book award for successful translation from an alien language, if nothing else.

By the way, you can score a mint set of all three hardcover volumes of the Debs letters for just $45 from the noble Bhagwan John of Bolerium Books. If you still need a set, use this link. Money well spent. You’re welcome.


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 7 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 ABC of Socialism” — Oct. 10, 1902 — 1,809 words
  • “Labor and the Color Question” — June 20, 1903 — 590 words
  • “The Negro in the Class Struggle” — Nov. 1903 — 1,541 words

Word count: 207,118 in the can + 3,940 this week = 211,058 words total.

This was a short week because I was finishing up with the Volume 1 manuscript.

I’ve got a couple more articles to check out and one more to do for 1902, then it’s the rest of the time for 1903 and 1904. It takes me about three weeks per year, so I am pretty much on pace to finish on time… I might slop over a week or two since the presidential year of 1904 is potentially a big one.

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Cheating Death in 1902 (18-18)


I don’t usually caption my headers, but this is actually the tunnel where Debs crashed.

The Eugene V. Debs saga very nearly came to an end on August 2, 1902, when he was involved in a serious train crash in the middle of Alpine Tunnel, then the highest railway tunnel in North America, located 11,523 feet above sea level in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.

Since he provided an excellent account for readers of the Social Democratic Herald, we’ll just let EVD tell the story:

We were on a mixed train, all coal and other freight except one combination day coach and baggage, in which we rode. There were five passengers, two women and two men besides myself. We had four engines on the train to climb the steep mountain grade, two at head of train and two at rear, just ahead of our car. The road is rickety and the rolling stock rundown and it is criminal to rush that kind of a train through that kind of a hole. The continental divide is in the center of the tunnel and with two engines at each end the train is very apt to break in two and the tunnel is so dark that the engineer can’t see a foot ahead of him after the first engines have filled it with smoke….

Well, we entered the tunnel going east at 1 p.m. Saturday, the 2nd, and just after we passed the red light in the center that marks the continental divide and were rushing down the other side our train broke into three pieces and our engine and car crashed into the engine ahead of us. The shock was terrific and as the only dingy lamp in the car went out, we were left in blackest darkness. The scream of a woman, an unearthly shriek, pierced me to the marrow. Our car was derailed, seats smashed, baggage piled around us, engines off the track and jammed into each other. I picked myself together and felt that I wasn’t seriously injured, although I found later that my leg was bruised and my back wrenched, from which I am still suffering acute pains.

matchI had some matches in my pocket and in the flickering light of these we concluded that we must get out of the tunnel without delay. With the four engines in the tunnel, pouring out their dense volumes of smoke and gas, we began to suffocate and the horrible thought came to use that we might be strangled to death before we could grope our way through the tunnel. At the same spot in the same tunnel five men were suffocated to death in a previous wreck, they being unable to withstand the fumes of the gas, perishing there before help could reach them.

For a few minutes I saw my doom, and the feeling began to settle over me that this black hole in the mountain peak was to be my tomb. I now understand how the unfortunate miner feels when he finds escape cut off and realizes himself buried alive. But we acted quickly and concluded to start for the other end of the tunnel.

There were some deep holes between the ties, and the walking and stumbling in the pitchy darkness was a trial not soon to be forgotten. I took one of the women by the arm and our procession started, and after a weary march the first ray of light greeted us around the curve and it had all the glory of the primal fiat, “Let there be light!” I shall never forget it. It was our good fortune that a stray current of wind was blowing in at the east end of the tunnel, or we would probably never have emerged from it alive. (Source: SD Herald, Aug. 16, 1902, pg. 1.)

Despite the disaster and a hike back over the top of the tunnel, Debs was still able to reach Buena Vista, Colorado by 7 pm and kept his appointed speaking date there. It was certainly an appearance above and beyond the call of duty.

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Touring in 1902.


Portrait of Debs used in conjunction with a syndicated article in 1903.

The coverage of Debs’s 1902 speaking tour in the newspapers currently digitized by Newspapers.com is very spotty. My list of his known dates is short and entirely unsatisfactory. He started the year with a short tour of Michigan, traveled to St. Louis for May Day, and attended the joint convention of the Western Federation of Miners, the Western Labor Union, and the Hotel and Restaurant Employee’s Union from the end  of May through the first week of June, delivering both a keynote address and a speech to a mass meeting after the conclusion.

He was touring the West from the middle of June, speaking in British Columbia and Washington in July. Additional rough detail is provided by a January 1903 article written for the Social Democratic Herald, in which Debs recounted both his booking agency and  states visited:

Since my engagement with the American Lyceum Union I have been in Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Missouri, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. *  *  *

Since the beginning of the lecture season I have spoken in colleges, high schools, and churches, though in most places the lecture is given at the opera house, under a variety of auspices, including women’s clubs, YMCAs, college courses, school societies, church associations, debating clubs, etc.

But twice have I spoken under socialist auspices during this time and but 3 or 4 times to less than a full house. As the lecture is given in the season course at almost every point and the ticket for the season is sold in advance, a full house, rain or shine, is the rule.

The people everywhere are not only ready for the gospel of socialism, but receive it with every mark of enthusiasm, and the telling points in a speaker’s argument are applauded just as heartily in a church or school room as they are in a socialist propaganda meeting.

In summary, Debs was a much more active public speaker in 1902 than he had been in 1901, with activity skewed towards the second half of the year and targeted to the West, not the East.

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The twisted publishing legacy of the Social Democratic Herald.

There is some confusion about the publication history of the Social Democratic Herald, official organ of the Chicago Social Democratic Party which had been packed away to Milwaukee after the August 1901 Joint Unity Convention to become the crown jewel in Victor L. Berger’s socialist publishing empire. It was for some time believed that the publication had suddenly “suspended publication” from April 6 through August 8, before being resuscitated by Berger in Milwaukee.

This alleged gap in the publication’s history is wrong.

The source of the confusion was apparently a large gap in the holdings of the University of Wisconsin, whose librarian B. Wilcox appended a mistaken typewritten note on Dec. 5, 1945, to the paper being filmed explaining that there was a lengthy period of hiatus.

Subsequently another university was able to produce (very, very bad) film demonstrating that there were indeed previously unknown issues for almost that entire interval. There was a gap during the move from Chicago to Milwaukee, but it only appears to have been a void of two weeks’ duration. Here is the SDH publishing history, for the record…

  1. The Social Democracy of America split on June 10/11, 1898. Their official organ, The Social Democrat, remained in the hands the colonization wing, but was soon suspended for lack of funds. The political action wing was forced to start their own paper, which was Social Democratic Herald.
  2. The first issue of Social Democratic Herald was dated July 9, 1898. Alfred Shenstone Edwards was the editor and remained so for the entire time the publication was produced in Illinois.
  3. The paper was briefly moved from Chicago to Belleview, IL as an economy measure. Belleview is located inSouthwestern Illinois just outside of St. Louis, nearly 300 miles from Chicago. The savings do not seem to have been sufficient ot offset the inconvenience and the paper was fairly promptly moved back to Chicago.
  4. The final Chicago issue was dated July 27, 1901 and assigned whole no. 160.
  5. There was no paper issued on the scheduled August 3 and August 10, 1901 release dates. During this interval the operation was moved to Milwaukee, with Berger taking over the publication.
  6. The first Milwaukee issue was dated Aug. 17, 1901, and erroneously assigned whole no. 159 on the front page nameplate — a mistake that does not seem to have been ever corrected. Editors listed on the masthead were Victor L. Berger and A.S. Edwards.
  7. Edwards’ name was removed from the masthead effective with the issue of April 12, 1902, although he continued to contribute material to the paper periodically, so the split must have been amicable. Perhaps Edwards was trying to commute from Chicago to Milwaukee or did not like the latter city as well. He was replaced as co-editor by Frederic Heath, a pioneer historian of socialism in America, recording secretary of the Milwaukee Federated Trades Council, and protégé of Victor Berger. Under Heath’s editorship the paper very much became an organ of the Social Democratic Party of Wisconsin, with weak coverage of national affairs.
  8. Berger removed his name from the masthead effective with the issue of May 10, 1902, although his front page editorials remained a distinctive part of the publication for its entire duration.
  9. The weekly Social Democratic Herald was supplanted by the daily Milwaukee Leader, which launched on Dec. 7, 1911.
  10. The Leader would continue for years after Berger’s death after being hit by a streetcar in 1929.



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 8 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 Socialistic Movement in America” — April 26, 1902 — 2,237 words
  • “The Pennsylvania Coal Strike is On” — May 19, 1902 — 820 words
  • “Socialism on Every Tongue: Open Letter to the Social Democratic Herald” — June 6, 1902 — 234 words
  • “A Great Western Movement is Coming: Open Letter to the Social Democratic Herald” — June 17, 1902 — 202 words
  • “The Inevitable War of the Classes” — June 21, 1902 — 1,227 words
  • “Politics — Democratic and Republican: Interview with the Spokane Spokesman-Review” — July 3, 1902 — 1,137 words
  • “The National Platform Explained” — July 18, 1902 — 712 words
  • “ A Narrow Escape: Letter to the Social Democratic Herald” — Aug. 8, 1902 — 819 words
  • “Trade Unionism Up-to-Date” — Aug. 23, 1902 — 867 words
  • “Jesse Cox: An Appreciation” — Sept. 15, 1902 — 657 words
  • “Auguries for the New Year” — Jan. 3, 1903 — 1,065 words
  • “Socialism the Trend of the Times” — Jan. 30, 1903 — 256 words
  • Socialism and Civilization: Speech at Rochester, NY” [excerpt] — Feb. 8, 1903 — 1,493 words

Word count: 195,364 in the can + 11,754 this week = 207,118 words total.


All this and more is ready to download at Marxists Internet Archive!



Hot damn, we have a release date for Volume 1: January 1, 2019.

Now I just need to get that proofreading finished up.

(BTW: It is six volumes, not five…)


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The Socialist Convention (18-17)


I am a bibliophile — a serious book collector. Yeah, that makes me a nerd, and that’s okay. I have come to terms with and embraced my nerdiness decades ago.

We book nerds all have favorite books in our assemblages. Here is mine: a set of original mimeographed (or carbon copy?) typescripts of the stenographic report of the Founding Convention of the Socialist Party in the summer of 1901, professionally bound in library buckram. God knows where it came from originally, but it has a $600 selling price marked up front on the pastedown by my friend John Durham of Bolerium Books in San Francisco. From Bolerium it was sold (or traded) to Herb Romerstein, one of the premiere private collectors of American radical ephemera. And then later Herb sold (or traded) it to me.

This collector-scum showboating has a point: YES, the 1901 Founding Convention of the Socialist Party was stenographically reported — a first for any American Socialist convention. And, YES, the stenogram has been preserved. And, YES, that stenogram is readily accessible to me for this project.



Every word by every delegate at the Socialist Unity Convention of 1901 was preserved.

Now, do you want to know exactly what the co-founder of the American Railway Union, founder of the Social Democracy of America, co-founder of the Social Democratic Party of America Eugene Victor Debs said at this monumental four day session — this veritable linking of the political intercontinental railroad joining the “Western” Chicago SDP and the “Eastern” Springfield SDP into one unified organization?

He said nothing.

Debs said nothing because he did not go.

His wife and his mother-in-law and his mother were all sick, he said. He couldn’t possibly make it from Terre Haute, Indiana to Indianapolis, even for one day…

Here is biographer Bernard Brommel’s take:

Certainly Debs could have taken any one of several trains that daily made the 70-mile trip to Indianapolis and appeared briefly at the convention. He chose not to attend the convention. He said that illness in his family prevented his coming to Indianapolis. Both his wife and aged mother-in-law, who now lived with the Debses, were ill and suffering from the extreme heat…. A curious reporter checked and found both women ailing; however, Debs worked daily in his office and visited about town.

(Source: Bernard Brommel, Eugene V. Debs: Spokesman for Labor and Socialism, page 67, citing the Terre Haute Express, July 31, 1901.)

His brother Theodore, former National Executive Secretary of the Chicago organization, didn’t make a notable mark at the convention either, but he had been called away shortly after the start by the sudden death of his father-in-law.

That was a legitimate excuse.

•          •         •         •         •

The Proxy Voting System.

The so-called Socialist Unity Convention was called to order at 10 am on July 29, 1901. The Chicago SDP’s system of proxy voting — used previously at the regular convention of March 1900 and the special convention of January 1901 — was utilized. Under this system any party member could attend the convention as a delegate, with those not able to attend assigning their proxy votes to any party member they desired from the same state by means of a signed document.


Attorney Morris Hillquit (1869-1933) was a masterful tactician and diplomat as well as one of the first serious historians of the American socialist movement.

It was clear from the start that the Springfield SDP would dominate, holding 4,900 proxies to just over 1,500 for the Chicago SDP, with representatives of three state organizations that had previously stood aloof from either national group casting another nearly 350 proxy votes. (The DeLeonist SLP, predictably, did not attend, even though the call of the Chicago SDP specifically invited them.)

In other words, Springfield had Chicago outgunned by a ratio of more than 3-to-1 in terms of raw voting power and if it had organized into a disciplined faction through caucuses, it could have shaped the new party in any way it liked.

This they consciously chose not to do.

The delegates in Indianapolis were present according to the terms of parallel convention calls. While the Springfield delegation pledged to accept the results of the convention as final, come what may, the terms of the Chicago group’s participation specifically required a ratification vote of their membership through referendum after the convention’s conclusion. No amount of urging could move the Chicago delegates from this stance. They retained their veto power jealously. This was the Chicago party’s main strength — the implied threat of a veto of the entire convention, just as unity had been scuttled the previous year.

Facing this, in a diplomatic masterstroke the Springfield group agreed to equal representation of the two Social Democratic Parties on all committees, not only eschewing any attempt to crush minority participation but bending over backwards to give Chicago disproportionate power. This unforced and generous demonstration of goodwill had the effect of immediately unifying the gathering and defanging factionalism. The actual cost to Springfield of underrepresentation on committees was ultimately very small, the benefit of disarming the few remaining enemies of a united party in the Chicago party was massive.

This sort of calculated diplomatic move has Morris Hillquit’s fingerprints all over it.

•          •         •         •         •

The Inequality of Proxy Voting.


The most proxies at the 1901 Unity Convention were held by Puerto Rican newspaper publisher and socialist activist Santiago Iglesias Pantín (1872-1939).

Party “stars” held dramatically more proxies than their lesser known peers, with Victor Berger controlling 349 votes of the Chicago organization (22.8% of the faction’s total). Springfield was dominated by Santiago Iglesias Pantín of Puerto Rico (483 votes); E. Lux from New Whatcom [Bellingham], Washington (347); Job Harriman (343); Max S. Hayes (341); Morris Hillquit (337); Henry Slobodin (334). Together those six Springfield delegates controlled 2,185 votes — more than the entire Chicago organization put together and about one-third of the total votes at the convention!

Is it possible that the Springfield SDP was somehow more efficient in gathering proxies than their Chicago SDP rivals? Perhaps. Here is the testimony of former Executive Secretary of the dissident SLP Henry Slobodin:

I represent 334 comrades who attached their signatures to my credentials. I assure you that when they attached their signatures they did not know who represented them. I got 300 votes, and they represented 1,100…. We had it announced in our papers that comrades could attach their signatures before delegates were elected. The signatures were collected by the officers, and after the delegates were elected their names were inserted into the credentials. Now you see how that system works.

(Source: Stenogram, 10th Session, pg. 68.)

The three heavy hitters from New York City were: Harriman (343), Hillquit (337), Slobodin (334) — 1,014 votes. The same mechanism was also clearly used in ultra-radical Washington, which appropriated all its proxies to the single delegate making the long trip to Chicago. A similar system must have also been used on behalf of Max Hayes in Cleveland and Victor Berger in Milwaukee.

•          •         •         •         •

What about the Chicago National Executive Board?

The list of Chicago NEB members and close associates who successfully short-circuited unity discussions in 1900 is a short one: Victor L. Berger and Frederic Heath from Milwaukee; Margaret Haile from Massachusetts; Gene Debs from Indiana and implicitly his brother, Theodore, the Executive Secretary; as well as Jesse Cox, Seymour Stedman, and party editor A.S. Edwards from Chicago. That’s close to a universal set of members of the leadership clique — a very small and closely organized faction.


Victor Berger (1860-1829) in his home office, 1898. Along with Debs, Morris Hillquit, and later Norman Thomas, the Bernsteinian Marxist Berger was one of the iconic leaders of the Socialist Party.

These were able to sink unity negotiations in 1900, but by 1901 overwhelming support for unity had made itself felt from the bottom up throughout the entire Chicago SDP. Jesse Cox, a lawyer with other interests in life, quit the organization in May 1900 over impending unity, which he foresaw months in advance. He was replaced by Corinne S. Brown, also an opponent of unity with Springfield.

We know that Gene Debs was petulant about the situation in November 1900, ultimately making a lame excuse and skipping the convention the following summer, having gathered zero proxy votes in preparation.

What about the others members of the NEB? Did they march into the convention, at which the Chicago SDP promised to be outnumbered, with stacks of proxy votes at the ready? Or did they just show up with their own vote and their voice? And, if so, did they participate actively or were they merely present and biding their time, standing ready to take offense so as to gain the ammunition needed to sink a bad unity deal should one emerge?

Here’s the answer:

  • Victor Berger — 349 votes, participated very actively in the debate.
  • Corinne S. Brown — Did not attend convention.
  • Gene DebsDid not attend convention.
  • Theodore Debs — 1 vote, forced by circumstances to leave convention early.
  • A.S. Edwards — Was not a delegate, possibly attended as a journalist.
  • Margaret Haile — 1 vote, participated very actively in the debate.
  • Frederic HeathDid not attend convention.
  • Seymour Stedman — 87 votes, participated modestly in the debate.

Seen in this light, Gene Debs’s absence looks even more like a calculated decision, does it not?

We know that by the summer of 1901 Seymour Stedman, having been active in the upbeat, positive, ecumenical grassroots radical politics of Chicago, had already overcome his fear of the unknown and accommodated himself to the idea of organic unity between Chicago and Springfield.


Before 1901, Victor Berger only published newspapers in the German language, with Die Wahrheit (The Truth) his party newspaper. In the aftermath of the Unity Convention, he acquired the former official organ of the Chicago SDP, The Social Democratic Herald, and began his English-language publishing empire.

For his part, Berger was clearly playing another game, and playing to win — which he ultimately accomplished when the new Socialist Party of America adopted the federation model of weak national organization with strong state organizations.  Decentralized power allowed Berger to continue to control the Social Democratic Party of Wisconsin unimpeded and little changed. The Wisconsin party never changed its name to Socialist Party, by the way, remaining the Social Democratic Party of Wisconsin for the entirety of Berger’s life.

Berger also fortified his position in the new organization by taking over publication of the floundering Social Democratic Herald, moving it and its factionalist editor, A.S. Edwards, to Milwaukee and launching his career as a English-language newspaper publisher and editor.

Viewed in hindsight, Margaret Haile’s participation at the Joint Unity Convention seems to have been more in the nature of obstruction and marked her swan song in American socialist politics. Haile relocated with her family to Toronto shortly after the convention, where in 1902 she would become the first woman to run for provincial office in Canada.

The Debs brothers? They were barely there and not there at all, respectively…

•          •         •         •         •



Algie Simons (1870-1950) was the chief advocate of abandoning all immediate demands at the Socialist Unity Convention of 1901.

The ideological split of the convention, such as it was, did not fall along organizational lines, but rather was fought over the question of whether the organization should adopt a minimum program of ameliorative reform, with the “impossibilist” left wing represented by International Socialist Review editor A.M. Simons of Chicago and E. Lux of Washington (the latter of whom was formally bound by direct instructions of that radical state organization through the results of a referendum vote to oppose any short term demands).

Impossibilism was an emerging ideological perspective in these years, with the DeLeonist SLP deciding to abandon its immediate program for ameliorative reform at its 1900 National Convention. The desire for a similar abandonment of every demand short of a call for the establishment of socialism was obviously influenced by the SLP’s decision the previous year.

The basic argument went like this: due to the inherent and inexorable logic of capitalism, no lasting ameliorative reform was possible under that system. Any partial measures on behalf of the working class merely postponed the possibility of lasting social change by delaying the overthrow of capitalism. Therefore, all effort must be concentrated upon bringing about socialist revolution through capture of state power through the ballot box and the only program needed was that which elucidated this goal.

The debate over the question was lengthy although the final result never really in question, with the following result:

  • Springfield SDP — 1,012 votes for striking immediate demands; 3,936 (79.5%) opposed.
  • Chicago SDP — 142 votes for striking immediate demands; 1,247 (89.8%) opposed.
  • Independents — 171 votes for striking immediate demands; 175 (50.6%) opposed.

(Source: Stenogram, 6th Session, pg. 44.)

Impossibilism would continue in America as a trend in the early American communist movement, visible in the ideology of the Socialist Labor Party, as well as part of the fundamental ideology of sects such as the  Proletarian Party of America and the World Socialist Party.

•          •         •         •         •

Locating Headquarters.


Many delegates of the Springfield SDP to the 1901 Joint Unity Convention voted to locate headquarters of the Socialist Party in Chicago rather than St. Louis.

The vote taken on the location of headquarters was surprisingly close, with St. Louis edging Chicago in a roll call vote by 3,517 proxies to 3,096 — a margin of just 421 votes. More than 35% of the votes of the Springfield SDP were cast in favor of Chicago, with almost 85% of the votes of the Chicago SDP cast in favor of retaining that city for party headquarters.

The Springfield SDP never made an effort to locate the headquarters of the new organization on the East coast, acknowledging a central, Midwest location, while dividing surprisingly closely over the matter of getting headquarters out of Chicago to some other less factionally antagonistic location.

Headquarters would eventually arrive in Chicago, but it would be a process that took several years.

(Source: Stenogram, 10th Ses., pg. 69.)

•          •         •         •         •

My Collecting Acquaintance Herb Romerstein Remembered.

I will conclude with a personal digression:

I met Herb Romerstein by mail as a collector a few years before he died. He was selling off some of his duplicate pamphlets, and he was always trying to find something that he didn’t have. I was looking to buy some of his duplicate pamphlets and my collection was expansive enough that I had a few things that he needed. Herb was a very serious pamphlet collector. So am I.


Herb Romerstein (1931-2013) — politically “to the right of Attila the Hun,” but a nice person and one of the most thorough collectors of radical paper ephemera since Jo Labadie.

Herb had been a full-time Republican staffer for the House Un-American Activities Committee during the late 1960s and early 1970s, back when the notorious HUAC was finally being hauled to its well-deserved and long-overdue termination. The word “conservative” doesn’t quite touch the intensity of Herb’s political views. His politics, I like to tell my political friends, were “to the Right of Attila the Hun.” I’m sure he never voted for a Democrat in his life and probably thought the Democratic Party itself was some sort of Communist front.

Herb was pretty wacky that way. He was an anti-communist zealot, a man of McCarthy’s 50s… One of his earlier books was on the influence of the notorious Communist Party USA on impressionable American youth. (I believe he had briefly been just such a youth before flipping completely.) His later work dealt with Soviet espionage and subversion.

DzerzhinskiiHerb was the proud owner of a small bust of Felix Dzerzhinskii that he imported from Russia through an eBay auction. Yes, the terrible Dzerzhinskii — head of the Extraordinary Commission (Cheka), the revolutionary secret police during the Russian Revolution, when they were running firing squads.

The revolutionary tribunal says “guilty” — tie them to a stake, line up the firing squad…

Ready! Aim! Fire! Bang!!!  Quite Easily Done.

The Russian Civil War was ugly. The Bolsheviks were bad. The other side was worse.  Much, much worse.

So why would Herb Romerstein, the ultra-right wing Republican, own a statue of the notorious head of the dreaded Cheka, you ask?

“Because that Pole killed more Bolsheviks than anyone else in the Russian Civil War!” Herb chortled. Herb wrote that joke. He slayed himself with it. He told it to me at least three times in our three or four phone conversations, while talking about books and pamphlets that he was selling.

Herb traded me my copy of the stenogram to the Founding Convention. It was a direct hit on my collecting battleship while it had been a costly near miss on his. Such things can be parted with by all but the most obsessive collectors. We made a deal — I honestly don’t quite remember what it was. It probably involved my swapping him a little stack of rare postcards put out by Workers International Relief in the early 1920s as well as a couple hundred bucks. That sounds about right. That would put me into the deal for a manageable $250, my having picked up an even bigger stack of postcards on the cheap in an eBay auction. From his perspective he would have realized his $600 purchase price out of the exchange — such postcards being unobtainable rarities with big price tags if one were blundering into them and buying them piecemeal.


Hamilton Fish III (1888-1991) of New York. One of the fathers of modern Congressional red hunting, Fish was a real reactionary that would have been at home in today’s Republican Party.

Making that deal opened doors. Herb later helped hook me up with virtually complete bound printed records of the Fish Committee, the Dies Committee, the House Un-American Activities Committee, and the Senate Internal Security Committee. He had a friend (whose name I was never told) who was also on the HUAC staff who was wanting to sell part of his library. Herb brokered the deal. Money changed hands in that transaction, which happened over time and in parts. I ended up with half a bookcase of bound documents. It wasn’t a cheap proposition, but you just can’t find such things at all.

Herb seemed to be a really decent person, something you really can’t say about some modern conservatives. He had his political views and his obsession with Soviet spies. I had my diametrically opposite political views. We each had our own collecting interests, mine being getting as much early stuff as I could put out by the early American socialist and communist movements. We had plenty of room to talk to each other without pissing the other person off.

The Herbert Romerstein papers — that is to say, his collection and book research notes — are now at the Hoover Institution. Herb was initially going to donate his enormously important collection of radical ephemera to some obscure liberal arts school in Minnesota that had been really nice to him when he was a visiting speaker, or some such. I’m glad he changed his mind. I need to spend a week playing those boxes. I’ve been to Hoover three times already. Palo Alto is a pleasurable place for a book nerd to pass a few days.

I just noticed in his bibliography on Wikipedia that I put together that Herb co-wrote a token catalog with the legendary exonumist Grover Criswell. Herb attacked collecting books with a sort of numismatist’s precision, which is probably why I think we got along so well despite being people with diametrically opposite political views. I co-wrote a token catalog as well, an obscure volume which the intrepid handful of sales tax token specialists still use a quarter century later.

I collect political pamphlets now and I also attack them like a coin collector.

I wish I had a chance to talk about numismatics with Herb. It would have been interesting.


So after reading my perfectly good story here, the good (?) Bhagwan John Durham assures me I have this sequence of events precisely backwards: that it was he who obtained the volume from Herb Romerstein (who got it god knows where) and in that in 2006 he sold it to me for “$300 cash plus trade goodies plus promise of a soul” — and he’s got computer records to prove it.


Far be it from me to let pesky details get in the way of a good story… Returning to the Carrite mantra: documents, documents, documents — never trust recollections or memories…



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 9 more Saturdays after today to get the core content section of the book assembled, with a limit for publication of approximately 260,000 words.

  • “Battle Cry of Superstition” — March 10, 1902 — 1,194 words
  • “Capitalism Has Nearly Reached Its Climax: Speech in Denver following the Joint Convention of the WFM and WLU” — June 8, 1902 — 4,393 words
  • “A Narrow Escape: Letter to Julius Wayland in Girard, Kansas” — Aug. 23, 1902 — 196 words
  • “How He Stopped the Blacklist” — Sept. 1902 — 1,144 words
  • “The Barons at the White House” — Oct. 4, 1902 — 1,229 words
  • “Society Must Reap What It Sows: Interview with the Terre Haute Gazette” — July 11, 1903 — 1,234 words
  • “The Growth of Unionism in America” — Sept. 3, 1903 — 1,431 words

Word count: 184,526 in the can + 10,838 this week = 195,364 words total.


haymarket-logoOn May 23 we received the proofread manuscript for Debs Selected Works Volume 1. I’m now going over this page by page to proofread the copy editor, as we fix and refine and polish. It’s a slow process. I will probably settle for 5,000 words in the can instead of 10,000 for the next week or two so that I have time to go over everything line by line. The manuscript for Volume 1 sits at 763 pages, excluding photos. Although this doesn’t actually correspond to the final printed version it nevertheless will probably be pretty close to the mark.

If I have to bend the August 1 soft deadline for completion of document compilation for Volume 3, I will bend it, of course. This project takes exactly as long as it takes. I think Haymarket would ideally like this to be a six month process per volume so that they could shoot out the volumes one per season (Spring, Fall) and build a little momentum. But it’s actually more like a one year process to get finished though and trying to move faster will only result in omissions and errors. After all, there are only so many free hours a week to read and write and type…

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Hissing Snakes (18-16)


While I was searching the digitized papers of Newspapers.com for Debs speeches of 1901 I came across an absolutely fantastic direct quote in the pages of the Chicago Inter Ocean — one of the windy city’s major dailies. It’s a statement taken down during debate on the convention floor of the “snap convention” of the Chicago SDP held in January 1901. The issue at hand involved a pointed communication from the Springfield SDP to the Chicago gathering challenging the convention’s motives should be politely answered or ignored.

The Chicago leadership clique was testy over having been called out over the purpose of the convention, which the Springfield organization saw as having separatist, factional intent rather than being called in the kind-hearted spirit of future unity. According to the news report, Debs went off against Springfield in an bitter and sectarian manner.

Here are Debs’s reported words:

If the “kangaroos” desire harmony, as they profess to do, why do they insult us in this manner? I am in favor of having the committee on resolutions give this letter the most considerate attention, but in their reply, let it be made manifest who is seeking to disrupt the socialistic movement in this country.

Last summer I accepted the nomination for the office of President at their hands in the interests of harmony, because I felt it my duty to accept it. My experiences after that time were most humiliating. Instead of the expected harmony we took into our midst a lot of hissing snakes. However, for the sake of our principles I propose that every effort shall be made to conciliate the factions now at variance.

This acerbic epithet, that the Springfield SDP were “a lot of hissing snakes,” was duly reproduced in the pages of The People (William Street Version), the official organ of the Springfield SDP.

•          •          •          •          •

Who Were the “Hissing Snakes”?

The Free Thought Magazine

Beginning as a publisher of Unitarian literature in 1885, before turning to Populism a decade later and socialism in 1899, Charles H. Kerr (1860-1944) would become the leading publisher of Marxist literature in the United States during the Debsian era.

Although the surviving Debs correspondence and articles on the unity question are more akin to tea leaves than a diary, it is nevertheless clear that Debs (1) did not like certain individuals in the Springfield camp; (2) would have far preferred that the Chicago organization continue down its own independent path and let everyone else come to that organization rather than make nice and compromise with other organizations in a unity convention; (3) distrusted anyone having had anything to do with the Socialist Labor Party, even those who had broken personally and politically with Daniel DeLeon; and (4) harbored grudges about certain things he had read in Springfield SDP-affiliated newspapers during the fall campaign, including especially a couple letters to the editors about the Chicago organization being composed of [Debs] “hero worshippers.”

In other words, the quote above attributed to Debs calling the Springfielders “a lot of hissing snakes” is completely within the range of what he might have been expected to say in an unguarded moment.

So who exactly were these notorious ex-DeLeonist disruptionist “hissing snakes” of the Springfield SDP? I’ve made a very, very partial list:

  • Robert Bandlow, Ohio
  • J. Mahlon Barnes, Philiadelphia, future Executive Secretary, 1908 campaign head
  • G.B. Benham, San Francisco, newspaper publisher
  • William Butscher, Brooklyn, National Secretary of the Springfield organization
  • Julius Gerber, New York City, top leader of the New York SPA organization
  • Benjamin Feigenbaum, New York City, writer
  • Julius Halpern, New York
  • Ben Hanford, New York, writer
  • Job Harriman, attorney and writer, Debs’s 1900 running mate
  • Max S. Hayes, Ohio, newspaper publisher and trade union activist
  • George Herron, Christian Socialist professor
  • Morris Hillquit, NYC, future member of the NEC and party chairman
  • Charles H. Kerr, Chicago, publisher
  • Antoinette Konikow, Boston
  • Algernon Lee, Minneapolis, future head of the Rand School
  • Caleb Lipscomb, Kansas
  • Tommy Morgan, Chicago, top leader of Marxist movement in the city
  • Frank P. O’Hare, Missouri
  • Frank A. Sieverman, New York
  • A.M. Simons, Chicago, editor of International Socialist Review
  • May Wood Simons, Chicago, writer
  • Henry Slobodin, New York City, lawyer and writer
  • John Spargo, Vermont, author, future Marx biographer and member of the NEC
  • Hermon Titus, Washington, newspaper publisher
  • Ernest Untermann, future translator of Marx’s Capital
  • Gaylord Wilshire, Los Angeles magazine publisher

If that sounds like the essential core of the Socialist Party during the first decade of the 20th century, you are getting the point, with apologies to Victor Berger and his Wisconsin associates…

•          •          •          •          •

If it seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t…


Alfred S. Edwards. In 1901 Edwards moved to Milwaukee to continue editing the Herald, eventually winding up editor of an IWW newspaper, in what must have been a stunning ideological flip.

Always eager to do whatever he could to sink organic unity with Springfield (and to thereby incidentally preserve his job as editor of the Chicago official organ), Social Democratic Herald editor Alfred S. Edwards took aim at The People in a post-convention editorial, claiming that neither Debs nor anyone else had made the “hissing snakes” comment and intimating that the editor of The People had made up the quotation from whole cloth.

Debs himself never denied having made the remark, mind you, but the vehemence of Edwards’s assertion that the statement had never been made certainly calls the authenticity of the remark into question.

Pity, that’s a really good quote. I will be including it, with a big asterisk, in volume 3.

•          •          •          •          •

A Note about Newspapers.

As I have previously lamented, almost no letters of the Debs brothers have survived from the 1898 to 1901 period. This also stands true for the other major figure of the socialist movement of the era for whom a systematic effort has been made to assemble a microfilm collection of papers, Morris Hillquit, whose papers effectively start in 1903.

The limited number of party pamphlets and leaflets issued by the two Social Democratic Parties are also poorly preserved or vanished, with the exception of the material produced by Charles H. Kerr & Co., which was distributed by both organizations and which has survived well.

Newspapers have fortunately been very adequately preserved on microfilm, even if availability of said film can be spotty.

Chicago SDP weekly newspapers

  • cover - Newspapers.com

    Although not formally a factional organ, the editorial line of the Appeal to Reason, the largest circulation paper of the American left, was close to the perspective of the Chicago SDP. Wayland hated DeLeon and vice versa.

    Social Democratic Herald — Chicago — Est. July 9, 1898. Official organ. Complete, although issues from April to Nov. 1901 inadequately filmed and partially illegible. Paper moved to Milwaukee after the Joint Unity Convention and lost its status as official organ, becoming a privately-owned arm of Victor Berger’s publishing empire. Forerunner of Milwaukee Leader. Master negative held by State Historical Society of Wisconsin.

  • Appeal to Reason — Girard, Kansas — Est. August 1895. Privately owned Predates formation of the Social Democratic Party. Not formally factional but definitely closer in spirit to the Populist-rooted Chicago SDP than the Marxist-rooted Springfield SDP. Filmed multiple times, including by State Historical Society of Wisconsin and Kansas State Historical Society. Digitized as part of Newspapers.com. Later iterations as The New Appeal, Haldeman-Julius Weekly, and The American Freeman, terminating in the 1940s.
  • Vorwärts [Forward] — Milwaukee — Est. Aug. 21, 1898. Beginning as a special Sunday edition of a German-language socialist daily published in Milwaukee from 1887, this became a separate entity (the organ of the Milwaukee AF of L) in August 1898. Edited by Victor Berger, with a full run preserved on film, master negative held by the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. This paper continued to be published until 1932.
  • Die Wahrheit [The Truth] — Est. Aug. 21, 1898. Beginning in 1889 as the weekly summary edition of a German-language Milwaukee socialist daily, this became a separate entity in August 1898. Edited by Victor Berger, this was apparently his main German party publication, as opposed to the trade unionist Vorwärts. Broken run on film from the State Historical Society of Wisconsin.
  • Spravedlnost [Justice] — Chicago — Est. March 10, 1900. Czech-language weekly edited by F. Hlaváček, regarded as one of the key figures of Czech-American socialism. Only a few scattered issues of this paper, the circulation of which hit 6,000 in 1903, have survived. Terminated in 1914.
  • The Toiler — Terre Haute, Indiana — Establishment and termination date uncertain. Some articles are preserved in the Debs scrapbooks. Wisconsin Historical Society has a nice run of issues filmed for 1903-1904, but only a single issue before those dates.
  • Forverts [Forward, aka “Jewish Daily Forward” — New York — Yiddish-language daily.

Springfield SDP weekly newspapers

  • The People — New York City — Est. July 16, 1899. Official organ. Confusingly uses same volume and issue numbers and banner ornament as the regular SLP The People edited by Daniel DeLeon. Apparently exists in a full run, although I have only managed to locate the first year with master negative held by the New York Public Library. Forerunner of The Worker (est. April 28, 1901 using same numbering system), which later became the New York Call, finishing as the the New York Leader — which provided the name inspiration for the separate-but-similar The New Leader.
  • The Class Struggle — San Francisco — Establishment date uncertain, definitely earlier than 1899. Privately owned and edited by G.B. Benham. Publication became The Advance after formation of the Socialist Party and seems to have died in 1902. Master negative for 1900-1902 in three reels is held by Harvard University. I am in the process of obtaining a service copy of this otherwise unique print of film and will assess content when in hand.
  • The Workers’ Call — Chicago — Est. March 11, 1899. Edited by A.M. Simons, this newspaper started as a local Socialist Labor Party publication, becoming a voice of the Springfield SDP after the split of the anti-DeLeon faction in July. Continued through the end of 1901, when it was replaced by the Chicago Socialist in March 1902, going daily as the Chicago Daily Socialist c. 1907 and running until termination in 1912. The short-lived terminal name of the publication was the Chicago Evening World.
  • The Haverhill Social Democrat — Haverhill, Massachusetts — Est. Oct. 7, 1899. Privately published by the Social Democratic Publishing Association. Local coverage of the booming SDP of Massachusetts and a reliable source for pronouncements of the Springfield National Office. Renamed as The Clarion after the formation of the Socialist Party of America in the summer of 1901. Complete run filmed by New York University’s Tamiment Library and was extremely rare film until recently digitized by Marty Goodman of the Riazanov Digital Library Project.
  • The Socialist — Seattle, Washington — Est. August 12, 1900. Editor was the radical Hermon Titus, who started the paper in connection with the Debs campaign of 1900 and kept it rolling until 1910, moving at one point to Toledo, Ohio and back home again. Filmed by University of Washington (complete for early issues) and State Historical Society of Wisconsin (complete for later issues) — complete run when the filmings are considered together. First several years have been digitized, later years have not. After formation of the SPA, became the more or less official organ of the left wing.
  • The Missouri Socialist — St. Louis — Est. Jan. 5, 1901. Organ of the potent Social Democratic Party of St. Louis and that city’s labor movement, which had a strong socialist component from the German-dominated Brewers’ Union. Became St. Louis Labor. Long running paper issued into the 1920s. Two filmings, either individually complete but complete when taken together, by State Historical Society of Missouri and State Historical Society of Wisconsin.
  • International Socialist Review, the first theoretical magazine of the American socialist movement, should also be mentioned. This monthly launched in Chicago on July 1, 1900, with a strongly pro-unity orientation. Its hardcover books bore the logo of the Springfield SDP (the arm-and-torch). The publication was made into a glossy illustrated magazine at the end of 1907, when publisher Charles H. Kerr and his close associate Mary Marcy took control of the magazine from the academically-oriented A.M. Simons, who had been drifting to the right. Became an organ of the Left Wing. Suppressed during World War I, with Simons on the other side of the barricades by then.
  • Arbeiter Zeitung — St. Louis — Est. ???. German-language socialist weekly.
  • New Yorker Volkszeitung — New York — German-language daily.

•          •          •          •          •

A Kind Word for Leon Greenbaum.


Leon Greenbaum (1866-19XX)

There is tendency for historians to treat Leon Greenbaum, the first National Executive Secretary of the Socialist Party, as a non-entity — a more or less random party member from the designated headquarters city, St. Louis, who was chosen for little reason more than his inoffensiveness, being free of factionalist taint by having avoided engaging in the bitter sectarian fisticuffs of 1899 and 1900.

This misses the rationale of the choice completely.

Actually, Greenbaum was the outstanding English-speaking member of Local St. Louis (a substantial organization with ties to the local trade union movement and affiliated with the Springfield SDP). Greenbaum had been the SDP’s candidate for Lt. Governor of Missouri in 1900 and headed the ticket as its candidate for Mayor of St. Louis in the city election of April 1901.

Greenbaum was a frequent contributor to the pages of the Missouri Socialist (the future St. Louis Labor) from its launch in January 1901. He was a logical choice and did a competent job getting the underfunded and greatly decentralized Socialist Party of America off the ground.

Greenbaum was not in the Executive Secretary’s chair for long, but his selection was fully understandable and his performance fully adequate.



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 10 more Saturdays after today to get the core content section of the book assembled, with a limit for publication of approximately 260,000 words.

  • “Progress of the Social Revolution” — Nov. 26, 1900 — 1,195 words
  • “A Word About the ‘Independent’” — Dec. 8, 1900 — 537 words
  • “The Approaching Convention” — Jan. 12, 1901 — 746 words
  • “Fraud and Imposture at Modern Funerals” — March 30, 1901 — 1,430 words
  • “Twilight and Dawn” — Dec. 7, 1901 — 1,488 words
  • “Peace, Peace, There Is No Peace!” — Jan. 24, 1902 — 1,484 words
  • “No Compromise With Slavery: Speech in St. Louis” [excerpt] — May 1, 1902 — 746 words
  • “‘No Masters, No Slaves’ : Keynote Speech to the Joint Convention of the Western Federation of Miners and the Western Labor Union” — May 26, 1902 — 2,034 words
  • “The Western Labor Movement” — July 1902 — 4,025 words

Word count: 169,966 in the can + 14,560 this week = 184,526 words total.

I also typed up for background the 500 word official call for the January 1901 Special Convention of the Chicago SDP; a 2,400 word report of the National Executive Board to the January 1901 Special Convention; a 315 word call for the 1st meeting of the National Committee of the SPA, held in January 1902 in Chicago; a 2,100 word news account of the January Special Convention as well as an additional 1,300 word set of “Convention Notes” by A.S. Edwards.

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“Count me out.” (18-15)


The Snap Convention of January 1901.

The November 1900 elections represented the proverbial half-filled glass to the American socialist movement. On the one hand, the vote tally for Debs and the joint Social Democratic Party ticket, nearly 100,000 ballots actually counted, represented a marked increase over the totals generated by any socialist campaign of the past. On the other hand, the ticket of Debs and Harriman had failed miserably in such natural centers for the party as New York and Pennsylvania and had finished far short of every modest expectation for the campaign.

During the campaign, while the officialdom of the Chicago SDP stewed over their shotgun marriage with their upstart counterparts in Springfield, the rank and file of the rival organizations had joined hands in common electoral work, undercutting the anti-unity perspective of the Chicago National Executive Board and its aggressively anti-Springfield party editor A.S. Edwards. In the aftermath, when the Chicago officialdom began to cast blame on their east coast counterparts for the weak showing of the SDP ticket, the rank and file appears to have been unmoved.

00-debs-harriman-litho-smActing in accord with a plan put in place during the fall campaign, the Chicago NEB called a snap convention of the organization for January 15, 1901. The ostensible purpose of the gathering, at least according to a cover story seeded to the press, was that the election of new officers was needed.

Indeed, a new 9 member National Executive Board was due to be elected in accord with the constitution which had been overwhelmingly passed the previous June, replacing the 5 member Chicago-Milwaukee body with a larger and more geographically diverse set of officers.

As a matter of fact, however, nominations for this new NEB had been already been conducted over the course of many weeks via nominations made by local branches of the party. A sufficiently massive list of candidates already existed and there was no practical reason for the holding of a costly and cumbersome physical convention to select these candidates — a referendum vote would have sufficed.

The ulterior motive for the convention, it would seem, was factional — a last ditch effort to staunch the rank-and-file drive towards unification of the two rival Social Democratic Parties by bringing the True Blue together in the urban center of their fief, Chicago. Faced with a growing “unity from below” through joint efforts between the rival organizations in a wide range of states, the convention marked a final effort for the Chicago leadership to undercut the national unity drive and to restore its own sovereign authority. Debs himself made mention of a plan for a “special convention within 30 days after election” in a November letter to Theodore, alluding to some sort of clearly factionalist “line of action” that had been “confidentially communicated” to the Chicago NEB’s supporters in the East. (Source: EVD to Theodore Debs, Nov. 9, 1900, Letters of Eugene V. Debs, Vol. 1, pp. 154-155.)

Lamentably, there is virtually no Debs correspondence from 1900 or 1901 to shed further light upon his evolving views on party unity. We have only his anti-unity public statements from the spring, a temperate letter to NEB member Frederick Heath from August in which Debs upbraided the “fanatics” on both sides of the unity question (closely followed by his own declination for reelection to the Chicago NEB), and the scoffing and sputtering letter to his brother Theodore mentioned above, written days after the shattering November electoral defeat. In this crucial communication Eugene had expressed surprise in fellow NEB member Seymour Stedman’s intimation that “we may have something to do with other factions [i.e. the Springfield SDP]” and that “if there is any attempt to harmonize or placate, count me out.”

Did he follow through on this threat?

•          •          •          •          •

The Mystery of the Missing Scrapbook.


Q. Where are the 1901 records on the Debs film?    A. There aren’t any!

The year 1901 was absolutely pivotal in American socialist history — the year of the founding of the Socialist Party of America. Imagine my surprise to discover that Gene and Theodore’s meticulous scrapbooks of newspaper accounts of the activities of the Terre Haute orator, the Social Democratic Party, and the news of the day that Debs found to be important and worth preserving are nowhere to be found. After years of devoted scrapbooking and newspaper preservation that can only be described as “archival,” the spigot of fastidiously preserved publications abruptly shuts off.

My initial idea was that the material for 1901 was included in a scrapbook which was filmed and preserved out of sequence on the 21 reels of Papers of Eugene V. Debs microfilm. In an effort to test this theory, I invested a number of hours of spinning as yet unexplored reels out of sequence trying to find the missing 1901 fare. Despite my best efforts, I have as of this writing found no evidence whatsoever that the “lost non-sequential volume” theory has any basis in fact.

While it is hard to prove a negative proposition, one thing has become increasingly clear: There simply was no 1901 scrapbook. The Debs brothers went on intellectual hiatus.

From 1902 onward scrapbooks resumed and important newspaper pages were again saved, to be sure, although more haphazardly, catch-as-catch-can, with many years of clippings mishmashed into multiple volumes. But there is nothing, nothing at all, for the year 1901.

•          •          •          •          •

Jumping ahead with the story a little bit…


The Forging of American Socialism (1953) by Howard H. Quint (1917-1981) had its copyright renewed a few months before the historian’s death. That’s a pity but not an insurmountable obstacle for a Chicago publisher with sufficient motivation…

With the above in mind, ponder these words published in 1953 by Howard H. Quint, an excellent historian, in his book The Forging of American Socialism: Origins of the Modern Movement:

Illness in the family prevented Debs from attending the unity convention when it opened as scheduled on July 29 [1901] at the Indianapolis Masonic Hall. Sicknesses seemingly had a habit of coming to Debs or his family when unpleasantries at socialist gatherings threatened to develop. But an impressive total of 128 delegates from 20 states and Puerto Rico were on hand…

Representatives of the Springfield faction were in the majority, with 72 delegates holding 5,155 [proxy] votes. The Chicago group had 49 delegates with 1,403 [proxy] votes. Seven “independents,” claiming 382 votes, were also present. The convention was dominated by lawyers, editors, and writers. Representatives of the laboring class, as such, were almost distinguished by their absence. Likewise, the foreign-born element was definitely in the minority. *  *  *

The Indianapolis Journal, expecting to find visible evidence of the internecine socialist fight at the convention, was astounded to note the “warm feeling” which members of the Springfield and Chicago factions showed toward each other. It also noted that there was no separate seating of the two groups. The debates, moreover, were to disclose that both sides were in a mood to compromise…. The recriminations and personal vendettas which had appeared in the Social Democratic Herald and The People had no place on the convention floor. The whole issue of socialist unity was hardly discussed because it was, from the first, assumed. (Source: Howard Quint, The Forging of American Socialism, pp. 377-378.)

So it is clear that by the time of the Summer 1901 Joint Unity Convention, there had been a geological shift of ideas; unity was already assumed. In some places unity was already achieved in practice. In the city of Chicago itself, for example, ground zero of the Chicago NEB, rank-and-file activists had held their own snap convention immediately after the November election, joining forces under a “General Committee of the Socialist Party.”

The ostensibly dominant Chicago SDP — which only shortly before proudly trumpeted a circulation of 8,000 for its party organ and intimated a paid membership of only slightly less than this number — had in actuality fallen into distinct minority status vis-a-vis pro-unity Springfield. Victor Berger and Corinne Brown and Margaret Haile moved from a position of patent opposition to unity to a tactic of building a form of decentralized unity that they could live with, knowing full well they retained the future opportunity to torpedo any form of unity which they found untenable.

Meanwhile Debs, the demigod and founder of the Chicago faction, using the excuse of family illness (his wife, mother, and mother-in-law all sick, he said), had made himself conspicuously absent from the triumphant unity proceedings, unable to make it from Terre Haute to Indianapolis for even a single day of the four day event.

Again, those words: “If there is any attempt to harmonize or placate, count me out.”

•          •          •          •          •

The plot thickens…


While it’s not clear that he made any money on the proverbial “back end,” it is a fact that one could buy “Eugene V. Debs Cigars” in 1901, as this ad from the Moline Dispatch of April 2 indicates. Debs was himself a cigar smoker.

The first thing I do when I take on a new year for the Debs Selected Works is closely examine the material for the year in my database of Debs’s published works — which currently sits at 3,918 pieces. There are “big” years and “light” years for Debs to be sure: 1894 was massive, as was 1895; so was 1897. The years 1896, 1899, and 1900? Not so much. But even those paltry totals eclipse Debs’s sparse output of 1901.

So what was there produced by Debs in that year? An obituary for Martin Irons. A courtesy note to Gaylord Wilshire thanking him for a copy of a new magazine, a response which was published by that great self-promoter in order name-drop, I am sure. A reprint of a short excerpt of an old speech made in St. Louis. Some back-and-forth with the Indianapolis press over the legacy of the late Benjamin Harrison, one of Debs’s least favorite people. Some replowing of old fields with respect to the sanctimonious library-builder, Andrew Carnegie, another member of EVD’s list of Enemies of the People.

Not a single major speech was made by Debs until one delivered to a SDP picnic in Chicago on the 4th of July. He also made another major speech for Labor Day in the town of Nashville, Illinois — speaking to a crowd larger than the community’s total population of about 2,200 — which was apparently not transcribed. He finally went on tour again in October, keeping ahead of the weather.

There was exactly one article about the unity question and the forthcoming convention was published in June, a positive enough piece which declared:

The convention for unifying socialists and converting jarring factions into a united party is now a certainty…. [T]he very fact that the convention was agreed to by practical unanimity would seem to indicate that the separate columns are ready to unite into a grand army, and that henceforth factional strife is to be silenced and the combined resources of the party are to be brought into concerted action upon the enemy.

After the unity convention that he pointedly missed, another positive article appeared cheering the provisions for “state autonomy” and pronouncing the move of the new united organization to St. Louis and the leadership of Leon Greenbaum (a former Springfield SDP adherent) as positive events — and endorsing ratification of the convention’s results by the self-liquidating membership of the Chicago SDP.

But beyond that, both public speaking and writing dwindled appreciably.

Gene Debs had effectively curtailed his political activity.

•          •          •          •          •

The Snap Convention of January 1901, redux.

The convention was called to order at Aldine Hall, located at 77 Randolph Street in Chicago, on Jan. 15, 1901. Seymour Stedman of the National Executive Board called the gathering to order was chosen as temporary secretary. Margaret Haile of Massachusetts, a fierce opponent of unity with the Springfield SDP, was elected temporary secretary of the gathering. Eugene Debs was in attendance as a delegate. The first day’s session was occupied with routine business. An estimated 200 people were in attendance. (Source: Wire report, Ottawa Daily Republic, Jan. 16, 1901, pg. 4.)

The tone was immediately set with the reading of a message from the Springfield SDP protesting the holding of the gathering. It was moved that the communique be returned to Springfield without action, but at the suggestion of Debs a committee of 16 on organization was elected, with Seymour Stedman the chair and including Debs, Margaret Haile, and Victor Berger, as well as Frederic MacCartney, George Strobell, G.C. Clemens, and a smatter of lesser luminaries from around the country.

Corrine Brown of the NEB read the report of the committee, which lambasted the Springfield SDP, calling it a “narrow, stagnating set which harassed and obstructed in the hope of ruining the party.” The evening session was occupied with committee meetings, with the chairs including Victor Berger (Platform), Margaret Haile (Constitution), Victor Berger (Publications), Frank Roderus of Illinois (Resolutions), and E. Ziegler of Wisconsin (Finance). (Source: “Debs for Harmony,” Chicago Inter Ocean, Jan. 16, 1901, pg. 5.)

There’s only one direct Debs quotation from the floor of the convention that I’ve located, and it makes clear that he was no gushing pro-unity enthusiast. In the debate on a motion to return unanswered an “objectionable” communication to Springfield, one which questioned the motives of the Chicago NEB behind the January snap convention, Debs declared:

While my personal feeling is such as would warrant me in voting for the resolution, yet in a convention of this sort I am the last man who will deny any man or men a fair hearing. If the “kangaroos” desire harmony, as they profess to do, why do they insult us in this manner? I am in favor of having the committee on resolutions give this letter the most considerate attention, but in their reply, let it be made manifest who is seeking to disrupt the socialistic movement in this country.

Last summer I accepted the nomination for the office of President at their hands in the interests of harmony, because I felt it my duty to accept it. My experiences after that time were most humiliating. Instead of the expected harmony we took into our midst a lot of hissing snakes. However, for the sake of our principles I propose that every effort shall be made to conciliate the factions now at variance.

January 17, the third day of the convention, was the most explosive day of the conclave. Delegates were divided between pro- and anti-unity perspectives and several competing strategic plans were vetted, amidst speeches that were both lengthy and heated. Former Populist G.C. Clemens of Kansas, an advocate of unity, called for a convention of all socialists, to be held before July 4, with the results of the gathering to be put to the membership of the party in a referendum vote. Debs was the proposer of a greatly similar convention plan, albeit one which favored formal alliance (i.e. political fusion), in the course of the debate making clear his opposition to organic unity and desire to preserve the Chicago SDP as an independent organization. Another approach was offered by George Strobell of New Jersey, which would place the future of the party directly in the hands of a National Committee, with no provision made for a unity convention.

The situation was tense, with two  delegates who differed on the unity question at one point coming to blows on the convention floor. Both were separated by their friends before serious damage could be done. During the protracted debate Debs was accused by one Illinois delegate of having “changed his views” on the unity question by allowing a final test of the issue at a convention, with the delegate likening the competing convention proposals to a choice between two ropes with which the party was to hang itself. (Source: “Fists on the Floor,” Chicago Inter Ocean, Jan. 18, 1901, pg. 4.)

On January 18, the fourth and final day of the convention, a modified version of the Debs plan was passed by the Chicago gathering, calling for a convention of all socialists to be held in Indianapolis, opening the second Tuesday of September 1901. Results of this unity conclave were to thereafter be submitted to the participating organizations for ratification by Jan. 1, 1902. (Source: Wire report, Indianapolis Journal, Jan. 19, 1901, pg. 1.)

This approach was a grudging acknowledgement that a unity convention was coming in 1901, with or without the participation of the Chicago SDP as an organization. By taking the initiative of issuing their own convention call, the Chicago administration was able to set certain terms for their participation, preserving a back door option to sabotage any result they disliked, controlling as they did the did the party press and having already demonstrated the ability to manipulate party opinion enough to swing a referendum vote.

Beyond the rough details above, as reported in the mainstream press, coverage of the January 1901 convention remains extremely sketchy. The conclave was completely ignored by the Workers’ Call, the weekly newspaper of the Springfield SDP in Chicago, which instead of offering critical convention coverage chose to run a “Special Labor Issue” of the paper in the week following the gathering. Nor did editor A.M. Simons deign to mention the Chicago convention in the next issue of his paper, instead running a coy front page “Socialist Pointer,” to wit: “Don’t worry about union; as the rank and file favor union, it is only a question of time.” This was followed by an if-the-shoe-fits-wear-it aphorism seemingly directed at the Chicago officialdom in an oblique manner: “Do not answer a fool according to his folly. Send him some literature and he may get over it.” (Source: Workers’ Call, Jan. 26, 1901, pg. 1.)

With no Debs scrapbooks preserving such accounts of the gathering made by the friendly press in such rare publications as the Chicago Chronicle, and no published stenographic report of the proceedings, sourcing remains meager indeed.

No Debs letters exist sharing his views of the situation facing the Chicago organization in the run up to the summer Joint Unity Convention with the “hissing snakes” of the Springfield SDP.  Morris Hillquit’s 1903 History of Socialism in the United States doesn’t even mention that a convention even took place in Chicago in January 1901!

Historians Kipnis and Quint do their best to tell the story, but large pieces of the puzzle inevitably remain missing. I can’t help but think there’s a good account of the gathering out there somewhere, but thus far it has not emerged.

The story of the socialist politics of 1901 remains but a partially told tale.



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 11 more Saturdays after today to get the core content section of the book assembled, with a limit for publication of approximately 260,000 words.

  • “Aims and Objects of the Social Democratic Party” — Nov. 3, 1899 — 801 words
  • “Letter to Frederic Heath in Milwaukee” [excerpt] — Aug. 6, 1900 — 387 words
  • “Three Classes, Three Parties: Campaign Speech in Cincinnati, Ohio” — Oct. 4, 1900 — 2,411 words
  • “Convention Statement on Proposed Unity with the Springfield SDP” — Jan. 15, 1901 — 305 words
  • “Schwab’s Silly Advice” — March 31, 1901 — 264 words
  • “Socialists Who Would Emasculate Socialism” — April 20, 1901 — 1,529 words
  • “The July Convention” — June 15, 1901 — 691 words
  • “The Mission of Socialism is as Wide as the World: Speech to a Socialist Picnic, Hoerdt’s Park, Chicago” — July 4, 1901 — 4,844 words
  • Telegrams to the Joint Unity Convention Founding the Socialist Party of America” — July 29 & 30, 1901 — 170 words
  • “‘They May Shelve Me If They Like’ : Statement to the Philadelphia Times”
     — July 30, 1901 — 313 words
  • “The Indianapolis Convention” — Aug. 6, 1901 — 704 words
  • “Statement to the Press on the Shooting of President William McKinley” — Sept. 7, 1901 — 639 words
  • “The War for Freedom” — Dec. 11, 1901 — 814 words

Word count: 156,473 in the can + 13,493 this week = 169,966 words total.

I also typed up for background a 450 word document detailing the referendum questions on unity polled by the Springfield SDP in December 1900; an 800 word convention call and cover letter from Theodore Debs of the Chicago SDP to William Butscher of the Springfield SPD, as well as an 875 replay and set of ratified resolutions.

I also typed up a 1,400 word piece by Morris Hillquit written on the even of the Socialist Unity Convention that will be used in a future book project. I am pretty sure that I will be moving to Hillquit after Debs.

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On the Campaign Trail (18-14)


I won’t say this was an off week for me, but it is a busy one in real life and I made a conscious decision to pour what limited time I had into typing up four rare background documents about the party controversy of 1900. Those don’t show up on the scoreboard but will be invaluable in the writing of an introduction and may be repurposed in a little project later.

I read quite a lot of Debs as well, sorting wheat from chaff and consolidating my database of Debs articles.

I have by now learned that just about everything by Debs that appeared in the Appeal to Reason during this period was a reprint from the press somewhere else — which means that, if possible, the original article remains to be located for use as a master source.  I have bumped into a couple cases in which the Appeal edited the original content for space.

•          •          •          •          •

The Electoral Debacle of 1900, Redux.


Debs for President poster from the 1900 campaign. This will be properly digitized as an illustration for Debs Vol. 3. An original copy of this in nice shape could easily be a $5,000 item to political ephemera collectors. Note the emphasis on location of party headquarters: “Chicago, not Springfield, dammit!!!”

I mentioned previously that the 1900 Debs/Harriman ticket of the two Social Democratic Parties very nearly got beat in New York state by an obscure Massachusetts machinist running on the ticket of the DeLeonist Socialist Labor Party. (DDL would have had fun with that…)

This got me interested in seeing just how bad the SDP’s electoral bloodbath was in other states. According to official results published by the Chicago Tribune on Dec. 20, 1900, Debs collected about 85,000 votes on just under 14 million votes cast — a bit over six-tenths of one percent. The SDP’s vote total was more than doubled by the tally for the Prohibitionists, the party which finished in third place.

In only one state did Debs and Harriman receive more than 2 percent of the vote — Massachusetts (2.3%). They received more than 1 percent of the vote in six other states — Washington (1.9%), Oregon (1.8%), Wisconsin (1.6%), Florida (1.5%), New Jersey (1.1%), and Montana (1.1%).

On top of the New York catastrophe, the tallies for West Virginia and Pennsylvania, where Debs had invested so much time on behalf of coal miners in 1897, had to be particular dispiriting. In Pennsylvania the Social Democratic ticket received just over 4,800 votes on almost 1.2 million cast, while in neighboring West Virginia the trouncing was even more complete, with Debs and Harriman winning just 220 votes out of about 220,000 — one-tenth of one percent!

The Social Democratic ticket was not on the ballot in 16 states, most notably California Maine, and Virginia. Had they been on the ballot in all 46 states, the SDP’s vote total likely would have been in the neighborhood of 100,000. They were expecting a million.

•          •          •          •          •

Another year down…


Debs’s September 29 speech in Chicago that launched the 1900 campaign was reprinted as a campaign pamphlet. Only three copies of this have survived. This, actually, is not the worst situation — there are five or six SDP leaflets with zero surviving specimens known.

I am basically done with Debs for 1900 — there are a couple speeches that I may or may not type up. In general the coverage of Debs on the Presidential trail was light and spotty and there are only a couple good examples of campaign speeches. It was only a six week process (compare and contrast to the two years spent by many candidates today) and there doesn’t seem to have been a ton of advance planning of the events, which typically filled the largest halls in the towns he visited.

There follows a list of cities that Debs visited during his whirlwind 1900 campaign tour. I don’t recall what the total count of speeches was, something like 80 — there were a number of short whistle-stop addresses made at train stations that were not reported in the press, or which received coverage in small papers that either did not survive or which are not yet digitized and easily available.


29. — CHICAGO. Debs starts 1900 campaign with speech at Central Music Hall, Chicago. Joining him was Prof. George D. Herron. The widely reprinted speech was produced as a campaign pamphlet and is the best transcript of a speech from the 1900 election tour.

30. CHICAGO scheduled at New 12th St. Turner Haul, auspices Bohemian branches of Chicago, along with Victor L. Berger, A.S. Edwards, and several others.


1. BATTLE CREEK, MI to an “immense” crowd at the opera house.

2. FORT WAYNE, IN before a large crowd at the Princess Rink. Introduced by a SDP member named Dr. Rauch.

3. MARION, IN scheduled.

4. CINCINNATI, OH scheduled.


6. INDIANAPOLIS, IN arrives at noon from Louisville. Speaks at Masonic Hall in the evening with Sylvester Keliher in the chair.


8. — PANA, IL. Speaks to 600 people at 8 pm at the Hayward Opera House.

9. — ST. LOUIS, MO. Speaks at Lemp’s Hall. Later speaks to a crowd estimated as high as 6,000 people at the pavilion at Concordia Park. Preceded by a torchlight procession of 2,500. Speaks with Caleb Lipscomb of Liberal, MO, SDP candidate for governor of MO.

10. — KANSAS CITY, MO. G.C. Clemens, candidate for Governor of KS, also speaks to overflow crowd.

SEDALIA, MO. Five minute whistle stop speech.


12. FORT SCOTT, KS. Whistle stop speech. Speaks to about 200 at the Memphis depot.

12. WINFIELD, KS. Whistle stop speech. Three minute speech in a station.

12. WICHITA, KS. Speaks at Garfield Hall in the evening to an overflow crowd.

13. TOPEKA, KS. With G.C. Clemens, who introduced Debs. Met on stage by delegation of engineers and firemen, including founder Josh Leach of the B of LF. Crowd at the Auditorium estimated at about 1,500.

14. Afternoon: HERRINGTON, KS.

14. Night: ABILENE. “No political meeting allowed in KS on Sunday so Debs gave free lectures instead.” Title: “Ethics of Socialism.” Location: the Opera House.

ARMOURDALE, KS. Large open air meeting.

16. OMAHA, NE. Spoke for 2-1/2 hours.

17. CLINTON, IA. At least 500 people turned away from full house at the People’s Theater.

18. MUSCATINE, IA. Stein’s Hall, the largest hall in town, packed and hundreds turned away. Speaks with Charles L. Breckman, candidate for Congress and prominent Iowa socialist George A. Lloyd.

19. DAVENPORT, IA. Turner Opera Hall, 8 pm, capacity 1,800, packed to the rafters. Another estimate “at least 1,500.” Debs speaks for nearly 2 hours. A.K. Gifford presiding. The Vorwarts Singing Society sat on stage and sang several numbers. Charles Landon Breckon,SD Candidate for Congress from Muscatine, spoke.

20. BURLINGTON, IA scheduled.

21. SHEBOYGAN, WI. Born’s Hall, with Seymour Stedman and Howard Tuttle of Milwaukee, candidate for Governor. Large and enthusiastic meeting.

22. MILWAUKEE, WI at Pabst Theater. Filled to the rafters an hour early. Victor L. Berger presided. Debs spoke for two hours. Theater holds 2,400, an estimated 4,000 were packed in and hundreds more turned away. Overflow audience addressed by Chicago Socialist George Koop in the street.

23. CLEVELAND, OH at the Academy of Music, attended by 3,000 plus overflow. Max S. Hayes presided

24. WHEELING, WV at Arion Clubhouse. Debs speaks for 2:15.

25. PHILADELPHIA, PA at Academy of Music, packed hall with hundred turned away. J. Mahlon Barnes presided. Mother Jones also spoke

26. TRENTON, NJ where Debs spoke for two hours.

27. WHITMAN, MA spoke until 9:45 pm.

27. Later BROCKTON, starting at 10 pm after fast transfer from Whitman.

28. Afternoon: TAUNTON, MA, filling the largest hall in town.

28. BOSTON, MA Paine Memorial Hall, with Squire Putney in the chair, with FO MacCartney (Chicago) in one hall and Debs the other. Nearly 5,000 heard Debs, by one estimate.

29. ROCKLAND, MA Opera house packed. MacCarney presiding and making an introductory speech.

30. NEW YORK CITY at Cooper Union, audience estimated at 10,000.

31. ROCKVILLE, CT to overflow crowd.


1. HARTFORD, CT to overflow crowd.

2. ROCHESTER, NY at Fitzhugh Hall, “packed to suffocation.” Preceded by a parade of local unions.

[Nov. 2. SDP Election march in New York City, in which 5,000 participate, carrying red banners. March ends with a Madison Square Garden rally, addressed by Max Hayes and N.J. Giger of Cleveland, J. Mahlon Barnes of Philadelphia, and Ben Hanford, SDP candidate for Governor of New York.]

3. — Afternoon: TOLEDO, OH at Memorial Hall for two hours to an overflow crowd. Introduced by Byron A. Case, candidate for Congress.

4. — EVANSVILLE, IN to big crowd at Germania Hall.

5. — Afternoon: LINTON, IN.

5. — TERRE HAUTE, IN speech at the Casino to 1700 or 2000. Greeted at the depot by a band. Spoke for two hours.

•          •          •          •          •

A few observations about the 1900 campaign.

(1.) I’m not sure if it is Ray Ginger or Nick Salvatore — one of the major Debs biographers anyway — that indicated EVD was playing factional politics on the campaign trail, refusing to speak at events held under the auspices of the Springfield SDP. This is clearly incorrect. See, for example, Oct. 23, Cleveland, with Max S. Hayes presiding, and Oct. 25, Philadelphia, with J. Mahlon Barnes in the chair. Whatever Debs’s preferences and predilections, he clearly wasn’t trying to “freeze out” the Springfield crowd via a boycott.

(2.) The New York vote tally of just over 10,000 votes had to be a brutal shock after the party’s massive November 2 campaign event, with a parade of 5,000 and a rally at Madison Square Garden. One wonders if there might have been massive vote theft by Tammany Hall in the state; clearly the level of enthusiasm vis-a-vis the final count does not compute.

(3.) At a glance it seems that Debs spent an inordinate amount of time in Iowa and Kansas, concentrating 9 of his precious nights — about a quarter of his time — in those two states. Kansas has a strong tradition of support for the People’s Party and Debs honestly must of hoped to do well there, but Iowa remains a major mystery, since his first “Labor and Liberty” speaking tour in the state was more than a bit of a flop. One would have expected more effort in Massachusetts and New York, where the potential SDP voters were, rather seeing this much time wasted in the Midwest.



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 12 more Saturdays after today to get the core content section of the book assembled, with a limit for publication of approximately 260,000 words.

  • “Outlook for Socialism in the United States” — September 1900 — 3,127 words
  • “Crimes of Carnegie” — March 30, 1901 — 695 words
  • “The Climax of Capitalism” — April 27, 1901 — 785 words
  • “Altgeld, the Liberator” — March 18, 1902 — 665 words

Word count: 150,733 in the can + 5,740 this week = 156,473 words total.

I also typed up for background a 4,000 word account of the March 1900 Social Democratic Party convention in Indianapolis by one of the four dissident SLP members of that party’s joint unity committee to attend the gathering, and another 8,240 word account of the same gathering by Will Mailly of the Haverhill Social Democrat, a pro-unity member of the Chicago SDP that jumped for Springfield. Also a 1,275 word reply by the Chicago SDP Unity Committee majority to the Manifesto of the NEB sabotaging unity in 1900, and a 1,085 word set of minutes of the second meeting of the joint unity committee.


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Frenemies: The 1900 Social Democratic campaign (18-13)


The Socialist Soap Opera revisited…

The March 1900 national convention of the Social Democratic Party had nominated a ticket of Eugene V. Debs and Job Harriman for the November Presidential campaign, the latter having formerly been the Presidential nominee of the January 1900 convention of the dissident Socialist Labor Party’s convention in Rochester, New York. It seemed at the time that organic unity between the two groups would follow immediately thereafter. Instead, an orchestrated campaign by SDP leaders had sunk the Joint Unity Committee’s proposal before it had even been properly made.

The snap referendum killing organizational merger had been viewed as an illegal action by the majority of the SDP’s Joint Unity Committee, and together with their SLP counterparts the merger process had been carried through to completion — an action which the SDP leadership and a majority of the organization’s rank-and-file had themselves considered illegal.

The chief complaint of the notorious “Manifesto of the National Executive Board” which had started the internecine war was that the SLP dissidents had duplicitously refused to accept the name “Social Democratic Party” for the merged organization — a red herring for the actual complaints of the Chicago-based organization, which involved headquarters city and the related matter of party leadership, and official publication of the joint organization. When the SLP dissidents and the pro-unity elements of the SDP with whom they joined immediately liquidated the so-called party name controversy by christening themselves the “Social Democratic Party,” with new headquarters in Springfield, Massachusetts, another round of wailing was emitted from Chicago…

•          •          •          •          •

Saber-rattling in Chicago.


Theodore Debs (1864-1945) was Executive Secretary of the Chicago SPD and one of Gene Debs’s closest political friends.

National Secretary Theodore Debs issued an “Official Notice” to Chicago SDP members in the name of the National Executive Board on August 20 noting that his brother the Presidential nominee had “accepted the nomination by another party and subjected himself to severe criticism…in the interest of political harmony and socialist success.” No merger of the two groups was in the offing, the younger Debs insisted, with the Chicago SDP opposing any unity based upon “the surrender of our party to the dominant element of an SLP faction with whom we have neither desire nor ambition to cope in party trickery and sharp practice.”

Even now, the SLP dissidents were “secretly stabbing our candidate for President and among themselves expressing the hope that he will not get a large vote,” the National Secretary of the Chicago SDP darkly warned. A conspiracy was at work against the Chicago faithful:

Where their “organizers” failed to inveigle our branches into their fold, and they are failing almost everywhere, they advised them to “withhold dues from all parties” until union is affected. Comrades, this is another trick of theirs to destroy our party. They hope to cut off our revenue and compel our surrender. This is not a time for any loyal branch to be neutral.

…If you think they are right, we say join them and support them. If you believe we are right, it is your duty to stand by our party and support it. *  *  *

Our party is going to the front… It is a party that cannot be transferred from Chicago to a town in New England without the consent of its members. *  *  *  We are confident that the few wavering branches, temporarily misled, will now promptly and emphatically prove their loyalty by their support of the party…   (Source: Theodore Debs, “Official Notice,” SD Herald, Aug. 25, 1900, pg. 3.)

Despite the warlike official rhetoric, the iron logic of the joint ticket in the fall campaign pushed the Chicago and Springfield parties into collaboration. On August 26 a joint meeting was held in Chicago in an attempt to organize a joint effort in Cook County for the fall campaign. The two organizations, joined by other political groups from the city, agreed upon unified action with “not a single dissenting vote being heard.” A joint county ticket, already nominated on the Fourth of July, was re-endorsed and a 21 member Cook Country Campaign Committee elected, including 7 members of the Chicago SDP, 7 members of the Springfield SDP (still called the “Socialist Labor Party” in the SDP’s press), and 7 members of other organizations represented at the convention, such as the Workmen’s Sick and Death Benefit Association, the Cigarmakers’ Union, the Turners’ Society, the Lassalle Club, and Socialist Sangerbund, among others. (Source: “Political Union is Effected in Illinois,” SD Herald, Sept. 1, 1900, pg. 3.)

This united front activity was even cheered by A.S. Edwards, long a unity opponent, in a Social Democratic Herald editorial, with congratulations offered “all comrades and friends, irrespective of individual affiliations, upon this most happy outcome of the situation in Illinois.” (Source: “The Illinois Situation,” SD Herald, Sept. 1, 1900, pg. 2.)

The situation remained tense, but common action continued, powered by the needs of the moment and the desires of rank-and-file activists.`

•          •          •          •          •

The Massachusetts Split.

Massachusetts-cartoon-991223-smIn Massachusetts the joint state convention of the SDP and the SLP dissidents (Springfield SDP) on July 8, 1900, had elected a new State Committee dominated by the latter faction. Former State Secretary Margaret Haile seems to have played a key role in organizing a formal split of the newly merged organization, which she depicted a new governing organization of “loyal branches” acting in “protest against the corrupt methods by which a few have attempted to override the decision of the majority of the party and against the degradation of the sacred cause of socialism.”

At the heart of Haile’s complaint was slate voting for the State Central Committee at the convention and a subsequent circular letter offering the exchange of state charters, as well as direction of the proceeds from the sales of dues stamps from the Chicago headquarters, headed by Theodore Debs, to the new Springfield Headquarters, headed by William Butscher.

The split convention was called by the Rockland and Whitman branches of the Massachusetts party and was held on Sunday, September 2, just 10 days after the convention call was issued. According to Haile there were 23 branches represented at the gathering, with another 9 unable to send a delegate but allegedly supporting the new organizational initiative.  The gathering elected a 9 member Central Committee for the faction, which included most notably Rep. F.O. MacCartney, Mayor Charles H. Coulter, and Haile herself.

S.E. Putney, new Massachusetts State Secretary, was in attendance, where he made the claim that the previous quarter’s dues had been paid to Chicago rather than Springfield, while acknowledging that future money would be directed to Springfield, despite his personal objection to the change. Despite the division, Haile and her shadow Central Committee buried the hatchet by passing a resolution reaffirming their support for the Debs/Harriman joint national ticket as well as supporting the Massachusetts mixed slate of candidates nominated in Boston on July 8. (Source: Margaret Haile, “Massachusetts’ Loyal Branches Heard From,” SD Herald, Sept. 15, 1900, pg. 3.)

•          •          •          •          •

The Haverhill Defeat.


The Haverhill SDP maintained a weekly newspaper. Only two copies of the microfilm exist but my friend Marty Goodman is in the process of digitizing one of them for the world. 

The Haverhill organization, headed by two-term Mayor John C. Chase, was the crown jewel of the Springfield SDP. When in the election of November 1900 Chase was defeated in his bid for reelection, as were two socialist alderman seeking another term, the Chicago SDP crowed about the result. They were bolstered in their smugness upon learning of the  reelection of Brockton Mayor Charles H. Coulter by a plurality of 35 votes in a three-way race.

Elizabeth H. Thomas, recently of Haverhill and future top political associate of Milwaukee publisher and party boss Victor L. Berger had no doubt as to the cause of the massive setback:

The most flourishing branch, if it is cut from the parent tree, withers in a few hours. The sturdiest arm, if amputated from the body, loses its strength forever.

One year ago the whole Social Democratic Party stood behind the comrades of Haverhill. From Wisconsin, from New York, from the most widely scattered places, contributions poured into the campaign fund, till it reached over $1,200. *  *  *

But in 1900 Haverhill saw fit to cut herself off from all these sources of moral and material aid. By severing her connection with the Social Democratic Party she asserted her ability to rely on her own resources, with such little assistance as she might receive from the small body at Springfield, with which she allied herself. The result has been disastrous for her and needs no comment. (Source: E.H.T., “The Haverhill Defeat,” SD Herald, Dec. 15, 1900, pg. 4.)

•          •          •          •          •

The Debs Debacle.


An unusual newspaper engraving of EVD, from the Barre Telegram, March 7, 1900.

John C. Chase was not the only Social Democrat who failed to meet expectations in the November 1900 election. Although Gene Debs was consistently an upbeat “glass half full” sort of guy, no amount of happy talk and spin could disguise the fact that he and his beloved SDP had been delivered a severe rebuke at the polls. Crowds had clambered to hear him during the six week campaign of whistle stops and two hour long evening lectures — halls were filled to capacity, hundreds turned away, and the level of enthusiasm high. Yet, when the smoke of battle lifted and the ballots were counted (or not counted, as some contended), the results were extremely poor in key electoral districts.

Debs was handed a most humiliating loss, collecting a mere 12,869 votes in New York state, versus 12,622 for Joseph F. Maloney, an unknown machinist from Massachusetts who stood as the candidate of the DeLeonist Socialist Labor Party. (Source: SD Herald, Dec. 22, 1900, pg. 4, quoting the official count of the New York State Board of Canvassers.)

In Massachusetts the Debs/Harriman ticket ran more than 3,500 votes behind the SDP’s candidate for Governor and failed to match the total delivered for any candidate on the statewide ticket. (Source: SD Herald, Dec. 22, 1900, pg. 4.)

Blaming the distraction associated with the split of the Springfield SDP for the poor showing of the Social Democratic Party in the election of 1900 was diversion for party members looking to avert their eyes from the thrashing. Debs was bitter. Immediately after the close of the election he wrote his best friend and political confidante, his brother Theodore:

Thus closes the campaign — and the results show that we got everything except votes.

I am serene for two reasons:

1st. I did the very best I could for the party that nominated me and for it s principles.

2nd. The working class will get in full measure what they voted for.

And so we begin the campaign for 1904. (Source: EVD to TD, Nov. 9, 1900, Letters of Eugene V. Debs, Vol. 1, pp. 154-155.)

With respect to the question of party unity, Debs was even more aggravated, commenting:

I am surprised at [NEB member and close ally Seymour] Stedman’s intimation that we may have something to do with the other factions. Great heavens, haven’t we got enough?

If there is any attempt to harmonize or placate, count me out. We must go forward on our own lines and those who don’t choose to fall in need not do so. There must be no wobbling at this time.

I thought our plan of action was clearly understood and now I am overwhelmed with pleas to attend a conference etc etc etc etc.

Hell! Don’t we know what we want? Or are we crazy?

We held a deliberate board meeting and went over the whole ground in detail and agreed to call a special convention within 30 days after election. I wrote the call and mailed it to you. Stedman should have written [George D.] Herron all about it as he agreed to do. We could all reach Chicago 2 or 3 days before convention and then hold the conference, but I don’t see the necessity of a conference now and a convention in 3 weeks….

I am well and in good spirits, but 30 hours a day for 6 weeks has told on me and I’m run down. I’ll not go to Chicago, nor attend any conference till I’m rested. I would not be fit for service in my present condition. If the convention has been called off I feel as if I ought to pull out and let the whole thing go and attend to my own business, but I won’t. I’ll stick to the party, through the gates of hell, till it stands on rock and defies the thunderbolts of Jove. (Source: Ibid.)

•          •          •          •          •

Chicago Unionist campaign of 1900.


Algie M. Simons (1870-1950), editor of the dissident SLP/Springfield SDP weekly The Workers’ Call. Simons was also the first editor of the International Socialist Review.

The so-called “Unionists” of the Springfield SDP spearheaded a drive for a united Social Democratic ticket for the spring elections in 1901, holding a nominating convention on December 15, promoted by Algie M. Simons and his Chicago weekly, The Workers’ Call. The Chicago “Unionists” sought to run their joint slate under a new moniker now that the fall election was over, fielding their candidates under the name “Socialist Party.”

Predictably, the Chicago leadership group unleashed a barrage against the unification effort,  with Social Democratic Herald editor A.S. Edwards accusing the “revolutionary” socialists (scare quotes were his) of having “slipped a cog somewhere in their deliberations” in deleting any municipal ownership plank from their platform.

“A party that refuses to adopt in its program of immediate political demands one declaring for socialization of that large class of public utilities operated for private profit in cities…is neither a socialist nor a revolutionary party,” Edwards scolded. (Source: “Confusion Among Unionists,” SD Herald, Dec. 29, 1900, pg. 2.) 

Even before unification, the outlines of conflict in the early Socialist Party over the desirability and limits of a minimum program had already begun to emerge.

•          •          •          •          •

A Tidbit about Party logos.


This button was made for the Milwaukee SDP for the 1900 fall campaign.

The shaking hands superimposed over a globe motif was first used as the “national emblem” of the Social Democratic Party of America in October 1900, published for the first time in the Social Democratic Herald issue of Oct. 27, 1900, pg. 2. The design was created by the National Campaign Committee for use in the Debs/Harriman campaign. It should be noted was the emblem of the Chicago SDP, not its Springfield-based counterpart.

The “Social Democratic Party” buttons featuring a red flag design were created by the Milwaukee local branch of the SDP for the 1900 campaign. They were sold at the price of 2 buttons for a nickel. (Source: “Notes from the Field,” SD Herald, Oct. 27, 1900, pg. 4.)

The SDP published a series of six campaign leaflets out of the national office in Chicago.

No. 1 — Address to Unorganized Socialists.

No. 2 — An Open Letter to the Average American Workingman.

No. 3 — Machine Production, Where Profits Go.

No. 4 — Toilers of America, Vote for Your Freedom.

No. 5 — Industrial Crises — Cause and Cure.

No. 6. — Platform and Debs Epigrams.

They also produced a pamphlet featuring the initial speech of the 1900 campaign by Debs, delivered in Chicago on Sept. 29, 1900 and another speech by Rev. George D. Herron made at that same campaign event.

The SDP in Chicago produced their own four page leaflet for the campaign that was distributed nationally through the National Office.

All of this ephemera is hella rare or lost to history.



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 13 more Saturdays after today to get the core content section of the book assembled, with a limit for publication of approximately 260,000 words.

  • “Prospects of the SDP: Interview with the Haverhill Social Democrat” — Nov. 27, 1899 — 852 words
  • “The Haverhill Municipal Campaign: Speech in Haverhill, Mass.” — Nov. 27, 1899 — 5,985 words [full version, replacing an earlier excerpt version]
  • “Warning Notice” — Sept. 21, 1900 — 426 words
  • “The Downfall of Capitalism” — Sept. 29, 1900 — 283 words
  • “The Democratic Party Will Not Deceive and Destroy the Social Democratic Party“ —Sept. 29, 1900 — 569 words
  • “You Are Doomed to Be a Sorely Disappointed Man” : Letter to Samuel M. Jones” — Oct. 8, 1900 — 1,174 words
  • “A Final Word” — Nov. 3, 1900 — 824 words
  • “The Republican Party Continues in Power” — Nov. 7, 1900 — 199 words
  • “Martin Irons, Martyr” — Dec. 9, 1900 — 941 words

Word count: 140,672 in the can + 10,061 this week = 150,733 words total

I also typed up for background a number of long documents on the SLP split of July 1899: a 2,100 word exchange of letters between SLP Organizer Lazarus Abelson and dissident SLP leader Morris Hillquit from June 1899; a 2,800 word announcement from July 1899 on the effort of the dissidents to overthrow DeLeon, Kuhn, Vogt & Co. by Henry Slobodin, the acting National Executive Secretary of the dissidents; and a 2,600 word account of the battle between July 8 and 10, 1899 published by the dissidents in their official organ shortly thereafter.


THE BIGGEST REPOSITORY OF DEBS MATERIAL ON THE INTERNET is located at Marxists Internet Archive, curated by David Walters. Here’s the link if you want to track down an article or explore the Debs body of work…


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