Welcome to the working week (17-13)


 I came to the big fork in the road and bailed out on graduate school at the very end of the 1980s. Not sure if that was a good move or a bad move (it actually might shock you the way that History PhDs are treated by universities these days and the USSR and the Know Your Enemy Industry, she ain’t what she used to be), but it was a move.

I ended up taking over the family business, a small shoe store. The job is okay, its greatest benefit is that it allows a large amount of free time — although the three day workweek that we all enjoyed for about 10 years has lamentably given way to a 3-2/3 day workweek (a rotating 3 day week among 3 people) in the aftermath of my divorce.

Why the change? The rate of exploitation had to be ramped up to redeem my ex-wife’s half of the store. It’s a pity, but you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do to survive, Rule No. 1 of capitalism… If business ever starts to really crank again (a seemingly unlikely prospect for small bricks-and-mortar retailers in the internet age), a return to the 3 day week will be one of first things that happens. It’s that important.

When the socialist movement eventually recovers That Vision Thing™ that it has misplaced, shortening the work week to four days for all working people — at a true living wage — has to be at the very top of the new agenda. Speaking from first hand experience: chopping off a day from the work week makes a gargantuan difference in one’s mental well-being and the quality of one’s life. Chopping off two days beefs up the effect even more — at that point a person is spending more than half their life living rather than selling their labor-power to some schmuck like me who is making money off it — but baby steps, baby steps.

Debs lived in the era of the six day work week and was involved in the struggle to reduce each of those days to eight hours, from a prevailing ten hours on average. Urban millworkers had it worse. To top it off: on Sundays, the only free day, most people went to church.

It is hard to imagine how crappy life must have been for working people.

0405-debs-comrade-sm My friend Marty Goodman found this drawing of Debs in the May 1904 issue of The Comrade, an illustrated socialist magazine that he’s getting ready to re-scan. The original scan is by Google from a copy in the Princeton University Library and is of better quality than their usual fare. It’s probably something we can use at the appropriate juncture in Volume 2 but we’ll almost certainly work fresh with a new scan from an original issue if we do use it.

Theoretically use of this scanned image in a book is copyright clear, since precedent has held that  “slavish reproductions” of copyright-clear originals are not themselves copyrightable. (Yeah, Marty paid a lawyer to learn that fact a while back.) Still there’s no doubt additional resolution to be garnered from a clean start on a good scanner. The original issues are very rare, however, so we might not be able to pull that off. Marty is an obsessive bulldog about scanning from originals whenever possible and I’m not gonna bet against him given the 18 months we have before we’d actually need the final image.

The Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine articles continue to be mowed down. I’ve got another 7 weeks in which to finish and probably 5 weeks’ worth of work remaining — which will work out just about right with a planned stay at the Oregon coast that will blow up one of these weeks. I’ll probably spin microfilm of correspondence to fill the other, if the free time actually materializes.

Looks like my earlier projection of 560,000 total words of editable text is also on the low side — a total topping 600,000 words now seems pretty inevitable.

Discussions about what to do with the text not used in the Haymarket book continue.


 My library acquisitions tend to cluster around after the middle of each month. My credit card “cuts” and I greenlight another shopping basket that I’ve been accumulating over the previous four weeks at ABEBooks. Then I wait for the media mail to roll in. To these purchases are added eBay acquisitions, which are sporadic. These all depend on what comes up on the market and whether I’m successful in buying it.

In addition I make a few direct purchases from a few of the radical booksellers in the US and the UK, which are even more irregular in timing. I’m trying to patronize Bolerium Books of San Francisco more regularly since I think they’re the cat’s meow.

In any event new stuff comes in constantly, but with the end of the second week of each month a predictable high water mark.

62-morgan-debssocforpresident-sm Since it doesn’t look like the new stuff will be here ahead of this blog posting, I’ll pull a volume off my stack and will let fly. I’m not sure how long I’ve had H. Wayne Morgan’s Eugene V. Debs: Socialist for President (Syracuse University Press, 1962) — several years at least. I thought it was going to be very solid based on the publisher. It proved to be a lame-o 250 page Introduction for Imbeciles that quickly found a spot in the deep corner of the dank shoe store basement amidst the “mistakes.” I’m sure there were a couple of classes of college students that were taught the book early in the 1960s, but there’s little of use to contemporary scholarship.

Imagine my surprise to learn recently that H. Wayne Morgan is regarded as one of the really important historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era in America of his generation. I decided to give it another try and dug the book out of storage…

Nope, it was just as bad as I remembered it was. Cracking it to a random page right now by way of example, we find:

“Debs especially disliked Roosevelt because of the popular President’s influence with the ‘parlor socialists,’ and because he honestly believed that the President was merely trading on the progressive spirit of the times for votes.” (pg. 109) — That’s complete malarky, as if Debs was a run of the mill electoral politician primarily interested in winning votes by discrediting rivals. He and the bellicose militarist and saber-rattling imperialist Roosevelt hated each other mightily as arch ideological foes. Roosevelt famously proclaimed the Socialists to be “undesirable citizens” and considered Debs among the least desirable of all. For their part, the left despised Roosevelt —  from the so-called “parlor socialists” on the right to horny-handed immigrant millworkers on the left and encompassing every shade of radical in between.

It’s just an absolutely ridiculous line — and remember, that one was just plucked at random from Morgan’s copious stockpile of intellectually challenged propositions.

Morgan’s tome is essentially an introductory level political science tract which treats the SPA as a regular vote-chasing political party and Debs as its ego-driven standard-bearer. It misses both the point of the Socialist electoral efforts and the flavor of Debs and is virtually unreadable disappointment, a vapid failure of a book.

 A couple of nice microfilm runs are en route from my eBay source in Alabama. One of the universities digitized all their film with high speed automated scanners and dumped their film holdings to a local guy who seemingly on a whim bought it in one lot. Thousands and thousands of dollars of university library film was sold for pennies on a penny to a dollar.

From him I have coming a nice 17 reel run of The Century, a mass circulation monthly features magazine (1881-1906); and a 15 reel run of The Dial (1880-1928), which started as a religious philosophical magazine which went political in the 1880s and which Thorstein Veblen wrote for in the years around World War I. Then it was sold and became a modernist literary magazine, which is of interest in and of itself. Total tab for 32 reels of film — $41, postpaid.

That film probably costs about $100 a reel if a person wanted to go buy it from the commercial manufacturer, and it doubtlessly still is for sale. That’s how little anyone cares about microfilm today. I feel like an 8-track tape collector…



 “Locomotive Engineers and Federation” — Nov. 1890 article — 1,950 words

 “William P. Daniels, the ORC, and Locomotive Engineers” — Dec. 1890 article — 2,725 words

 “William D. Robinson” — Dec. 1890 article — 2,975 words

 “Protection” — Jan. 1891 article — 1,075 words

 “Fair Wages” — Jan. 1891 article — 1,350 words

 “The Canadian Pacific Railway and the Supreme Council” — March 1891 article — 575 words

 “‘Hero Worship’” — March 1891 article — 1,410 words

 “Labor Organizations and the Labor Press” — March 1891 article — 1,875 words

 “The Farmers’ Alliance” — March 1891 article — 1,600 words

 “Edward Bellamy Launches The New Nation” — March 1891 article — 460 words

 “Mankind in a Bad Way” — April 1891 article — 1,800 words

 “The Almighty Dollar” — April 1891 article — 2,075 words

 “Labor Leaders” — May 1891 article — 1,660 words


….Word count 445,875 words in the can + 21,530 this week = 467,405 words

• 7 more Saturdays to go until the July 1 target for the end of output of editable text. There are still 126 article pdfs remaining to be processed (or rejected at second reading).

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Radicals (17-12)


 My friend Marty Goodman of the Riazanov Digital Library Project just came across this cubist-influenced drawing in charcoal of Debs shortly after his death in the Workers (Communist) Party’s monthly literary-artistic magazine, The New Masses. The artist, Hugo Gellert  (1892-1985), was a Hungarian-American radical who spent his entire life drawing left wing political themes.

Gellert is a museum-famous sort of guy. The original copy of that drawing would probably be worth a couple thousand bucks.

This Debs Project is a marathon, I don’t see how it can be conceived any other way. Four thick volumes in four years and will take a pattern of constant, steady, protracted work to get finished.

Unfortunately, not every week of “real life” has as much free time as the next. Last week and this are the two most pressing weeks of the year in terms of the Real Life work schedule. Last week I more or less kicked butt, despite it all. This week not so much.

I’m not worried about it. There are times to sprint and times to lay back and conserve energy. I’ve just been laying back this week.

I think I remember the first time I ever heard of Eugene V. Debs. When I was in third grade or thereabouts my parents subscribed to a set of US history encyclopedias for kids. It was a chronological set with red-white-and-blue bindings and there were a ton of books in the series, like 18 or something. My recollection is that they came by mail every month. Each had color paintings on nearly every page of assassinations and wars and depressions and elections and all kinds of historical crap that was semi-exciting to nerd kids like me.

Anyway, one of the articles was about this man who ran for President in 1920 while he was in prison named Eugene Debs. I remember that he was painted wearing grey prison garb. That had to be my first introduction to him — it certainly wouldn’t have been through my parents, who were barely political Republicans.

I’d really like to find a set of those books, they must have been fairly cheap and mass produced, but damned if I can remember the title or the publisher.

 My first baby steps towards being radicalized myself came in 5th grade.  It must have been 1970-71, middle of the Viet Nam war, and I had a long-haired (!!!) male (!!!) rookie teacher named Robert Conove. His actual old family name was Konokowsky or something like that, he told us; he always wore a little gold star of David on a chain around his neck. There weren’t a lot of Jews in Eureka, California, and he was the Ambassador.


Worthington Elementary closed in 2004.

All the college-track kids were intentionally stuffed in the combined 5th and 6th grade class of mean old Mrs. Schwartz, who taught about prepositions and participles and whose breath smelled like rancid tobacco. The future cheerleader girls and football boys, waitresses and construction dudes, millworkers and housewives, were all channeled into Mr. Conove’s class.

I was a new transfer from a different elementary school across town and that’s where I landed, too. Maybe they flipped a coin.

 Conove was a freethinker, for sure. He played guitar and we sang songs and tapped along with woodblocks and bongos and tamborines. He brought in wood and nails and hammers and helped some of the boys build a big wooden structure right in the middle of the high-ceilinged classroom. We all did our own thing, maaaan. The boys spent a lot of time playing cards in class in small groups. I suppose there was some vague math rationale for the green light on card playing. Who knows, maybe it even proved to be a valuable career skill for one or two of my classmates…

We had learned cursive writing in 4th grade; Conove (never a “Mr.” Conove, he was “Conove” to the boys at least) told us to use whatever was more comfortable to us. I went back to printing and other than my 6th grade year from hell never really used cursive writing again.

The grouchy old principal — I don’t recall her name, maybe it was Mrs. Maxon or something like that Mrs. Jordan — absolutely hated this new upstart Conove. It was absolutely transparently obvious to all the kids. And the same thing must have been absolutely transparently uncomfortably obvious to him. Building a structure in class?!? Singing all the time?!? Kids playing cards?!?! Come on… Pure scorn and contempt whenever she was in proximity.

 Standardized testing happened and I must have aced something; all of the sudden I was being pulled out of class for a couple hours a week to participate in the “MGM” program — “Mentally Gifted Minors,” I think was the acronym of the day. It was a crock. Everyone was supposed to take part in self-directed smart kid activities. Purportedly educational games with terrible gameplay, a shelf full of boring books, I can’t even remember the other crap. It was as useless in the big picture of life as playing poker with my friends in Conove’s class would have been. And far less fun.

I do remember one thing that I did though: a special report to the class on marijuana. I chose the topic and it was pretty much the same principle as an independent study class in college or a masters thesis or a four volume set of books compiling the writings of Eugene V. Debs: pick your topic, do your work, meet the deadline, report to the class. My takeaway, derived from whatever books a fifth grade student could get from an elementary school library and a medium-sized blue collar county library circa 1970: marijuana was not a drug that lead to overdose deaths, nor was it physiologically addictive like heroin. Any other deductions I made I don’t recall, I’m sure some were juvenile and stupid, but I know those two were my major conclusions.


“Hey look us over, don’t we look grand? / We are the Falcons, grandest in the land…”

 I think I was the only person in Conove’s class that got pulled out for “MGM” stuff. Maybe there was a girl that went with me, I don’t remember exactly. And then the next year, lo and behold, I was the only one from Conove’s class that got put in with mean old Mrs. Schwartz in her combined 5th and 6th grade class, where I was brutalized for being a year behind where I should have been in English and science and math and for not using cursive writing like I was supposed to.

Think about it: all my friends, every single one, moved in a group together to another fun class en route to becoming the cheerleader girls and football boys, waitresses and construction dudes, millworkers and housewives that the system had already decided they would be; all Mrs. Schwartz’s 5th graders were promoted to her loving care for 6th grade. Plus me. I had an epically lousy time playing catchup on all the academic stuff that we were supposed to be learning in 5th grade when we were singing songs and playing cards instead.

So I had to make an entirely new set of friends — future doctors and lawyers and teachers and scientists, or so the system projected they would be.

Then the next year all the sixth graders from both classes went away to Catherine L. Zane Junior High School and we met a whole new group of kids from the other elementary schools on our side of town. I drew four cards on that 6th grade crew. I might have even thrown them all in and drawn five. Fifth graders aren’t big on the intricacies of bluffing.

I went on to become a shoe salesman like my old man. I sure showed them.

 By the way, I can’t tell you what a participle is today, but I can play poker and I do remember the tune of Donovan’s “Isle of Islay” — a song that Conove taught us that we learned phonetically as “Oh-eh-lay.”

“How high the gulls fly, oh-eh-laaaaaay…”

It’s a pretty tune with idyllic lyrics that are a little bit sad.

Microbus Fifth grade definitely marked the first baby steps in my being radicalized. Once Conove heard me talking about “hippies,” which were a thing in 1971. I was just aping my parents, as children inevitably do, no memory whatsoever in what context I used the term. But young, long-haired Mr. Conove overheard me and got right in my face about it: “What do you mean a ‘hippie’? What’s a ‘hippie’?!?”

“You know, the people with long hair and big shaggy beards who don’t take baths…”

That was inadequate for him. He kept after me and after me and after me: every answer I gave, he had a retort: “Is it just a hair style? Can’t a person with short hair be a hippie, too?”

“I suppose so…”

“So it’s not about hair at all… How about if a person with long hair takes baths and is clean?” And so on and so forth. “Isn’t it more about what people think?”

Maybe it was a five minute interaction, tops, but the effect was really quite profound. Big life lessons: don’t be so quick to judge by outward appearances, a person’s internal thinking is what is important. Don’t be quick to repeat everything you hear at home — think for yourself. Don’t talk about what you don’t take the time to understand — or if you do, get ready to take on somebody who understands better and knows more than you do.

peacemarch Another memory from that year: once I mouthed off to Conove about something or other and he cuffed me in the ear pretty hard. My ear rang like a bomb had gone off in it. I couldn’t hear at all from it for a minute or two. I cried.

In retrospect, it could have been a career-ender for him given his political position with the administration if the boss had found out. Years later I figured that out and I was very glad that I never told anyone about the incident. What he did wasn’t right, but my getting him fired for a momentary stumble like that would have been worse.

Robert Conove was my best elementary school teacher, and also my worst. I’m thankful for him.

 Another thing that started to radicalize me was the televised lottery for conscription to Vietnam. The draft was on TV and when my birthday was pulled my mother told me I would have had to go to Vietnam that year.

That made an impression. It was even clear to little kids in conservative mill towns on the North Coast of California that Vietnam was a complete bloodbath and catastrophe. And I would have had to go be part of that, if I were just a few years older.

That’ll make you think, even if you’re just a little kid.

Later on, when it was time for me to register for the draft to reinforce the dubious masculinity of a Baptist Sunday School teacher-slash-small town peanut farmer who was in ten feet over his head as President of the United States, I didn’t. But that’s another story for another week when I’m just laying back.


hutchins-womenwhowork Nothing really Debs-related, directly or tangentially, this week. I did get a really nice inscribed and signed copy of an old Communist Party book from 1934, written by Grace Hutchins, the lesbian partner of Anna Rochester. Title is Women Who Work, and it is well-written, red-hot feminist blast from the Depression 1930s, produced under the auspices of the CPUSA’s statistical bureau, the “Labor Research Association.”

Really pretty paper-over-hardcover boards and as clean and square a copy of this uncommon 80+ year old title as one is ever going to find.

While this book comes almost a generation after him and them, Debs and the Socialists were very good on women’s issues during the Suffrage era and there were female party leaders even before women had the right to vote in the country. They aren’t often given the credit they deserve for being out front on a key issue of the era and helping in some small measure to lead the way.

I notice now that Grace Hutchins doesn’t have a Wikipedia page yet. I’ve got the 2013 biography by Julia Allen, Passionate Commitments: The Lives of Anna Rochester and Grace Hutchins, I should take it upon myself to get that done.


 “Is a Wrong Done to One the Concern of All?” — July 1890 article — 1,550 words

 “Agitation and Agitators” — August 1890 article —  1,175 words

 “Strike” — August 1890 article — 1,100 words

 “Supreme Council Declines Aid to NY Central Strike” — August 1890 interview — 750 words

 “Strike on the New York Central” — September 1890 article — 3,050 words

 “Promiscuous Striking” — September 1890 article — 1,060 words

 “The Reason Why” — September 1890 article — 1,210 words

 “The Machine and the Man” — October 1890 article — 1,200 words

….Word count 434,780 words in the can + 11,095 this week = 445,875 words

• 8 more Saturdays to go until the July 1 target for the end of output of editable text. There are still 148 article pdfs remaining to be processed (or rejected at second reading).

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Intellectual trajectory (17-11)


 Individuals change over time. Some remain consistent in their thinking and behavior for longer periods than others, but everybody evolves as life marches on. To lefty types concerned with the biography or the written output of historical actors or political commentators, this evolution of the thought of those they study is known as “intellectual trajectory.”


Exercise: Count the greyhairs in this picture…

That young people tend to be more left wing than their elders is a common platitude. With less of a stake in the economic status quo, a more vivid imagination and greater willingness to “think outside the box,” a lower level of cynicism, and bright eyes viewing a broader expanse of life with its myriad possibilities ahead of them, political radicalism and youth seem at times to go hand-in-hand. See, for example, the 2016 demographics of the supporters of Bernie Sanders versus the crowds and cliques swirling around more staid or reactionary flavors of capitalist politicians. The young have less of a stake in what is and more of a willingness to take a chance to achieve what should be.

As time passes, so the common thinking goes, the institutional pressures of life — job, bills, home, family, hedonistic pleasures — tend to temper or blinker the enthusiastic and optimistic visions of youth. People grow more safe and stable and stodgy, it is said, less willing to take a risk in what could be in favor of building themselves the most comfortable iteration of what actually is. Old biases and prejudices and the cynical conclusions of disappointments and broken dreams come to the fore; the individual grows more conservative.


Max Eastman (1883-1969): Radical magazine editor and translator of Leon Trotsky in the 1920s, Readers’ Digest editor in the 1940s…

The intellectual trajectory of a fairly enormous number of intellectuals and political radicals of the early 20th Century moved inexorably from left to right. Big names like Max Eastman, Max Shachtman, James Burnham, Bert Wolfe, and Jay Lovestone; lesser known lights such as William Bross Lloyd, John Spargo, Eugene Lyons, Joseph Zack, Oliver Carlson, on and on — it was always the same: left-to-right, left-to-right, left-to-right, left-to-right, left-to-right…

Obviously, the degeneration of the hope and promise of the Russian revolution into its negation — a particularly ugly, anti-libertarian, militarized, nationalistic police state — was a prime factor in this transformation of the radicals of the 1920s and 1930s into the conservatives of the 1940s and 1950s. But it is worthy of note that the same process may be observed again on a smaller scale a generation later when a certain number of 1960s anti-capitalist and black power radicals gradually mutated into their antithesis by the 1980s — David Horowitz, Eldridge Cleaver, and others less known. “Oh, how foolish we were…”

That there was in the 20th Century such a broad general tendency for intellectual trajectories to move from left-to-right, that such a tendency has been seen by many commentators as an inherent “law” (to use an archaic, 19th Century-flavored phrasing), strikes me as axiomatic. As for the veracity of the underlying theory itself — well, perhaps there are elements of truth to the notion that people tend to become more conservative as they age, perhaps not. I’ll profess agnosticism on the matter and note anecdotally that it doesn’t seem to have applied to me.

Here is what is interesting about Gene Debs though: he moved the other direction hard as he grew older, right-to-left, at least from 1877 until 1922, when he started to soften up again as the Russian Revolution began its downslideThat particular intellectual trajectory is downright rare.


Historian David A. Shannon was born in 1920 in Terre Haute and was an alumnus of Indiana State University.

 I haven’t studied the question closely enough to figure out whether he was the first to identify the phenomenon, but historian David A. Shannon deserves points for being the first Debsologist to state assertively that The Great Socialist Debs started on the right side of the political spectrum. In December 1951 Shannon published an article in the Indiana Journal of History called “Eugene V. Debs: Conservative Labor Editor,” and with a memorable hook like that, I don’t think that any serious biographer after 1951 has missed at least acknowledging that fact. None come to mind anyway.

It’s pretty obvious really to anyone taking 20 minutes to read early magazine articles edited by Debs. For example, here’s a short list of pre-1885 Debs articles in Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine that will probably make the cut for Volume 1: “Benevolence,” “Temperance,” “The Square Man,” “Masterful Men,” “Man’s Power and God’s Power,” “Honesty,” “True Benevolence,” “The Mission of Our Brotherhood,” “Charity vs. Malice” — and so forth, you get the point.

Shannon indicates that Debs was conservative in the “early 1880s,” when he was filled with “adulation of the self-made man.” That’s correct and well put. By the end of the decade he was something else. That is also fairly obvious. It is a matter of debate as to exactly when Debs made the first big leap in his leftward evolution, from an early belief that “strikes are knives with which laborers cut their own throat” (1883) to his scornful assertion that it was a long-running “error” for another brotherhood to have attempted to “secure justice to its members by a mistaken conception of obligation and duty” (1890) and elsewhere his mocking observation that even in 1890 there remained “men who deprecate agitation, and who have a holy horror for strikes.”

Historian of American socialism Shannon asserted that Debs was “jolted” into a “slow revision of his views” only by the Burlington strike of February 1888. I don’t think a close reading of Debs’s editorializing in the middle 1880s bears this out. My own belief is that Debs’s views started to change in 1886, when he cut himself loose once and for all from a promising career as a Democratic Party politician and dedicated himself wholeheartedly to life as a labor brotherhood organizer and magazine editor. There is a real difference in the length, content, and tone of his writing in the Magazine that took place during the interval from 1885 and 1887, to be sure.

Certainly the Burlington strike was pivotal in moving Debs to advocacy of labor federation, but that is something quite different than his underlying worldview — which had already fundamentally changed even before the Burlington strike.


AllThingsNew This week’s new additions include a think piece that attempts to systematize the utopian collectivist movement of the 19th Century, All Things New: American Communes and Utopian Movements, 1860-1914, by Robert S. Fogarty (University of Chicago Press, 1990). This actually relates tangentially to Debs in “Volume 2,” when he was briefly associated with the Social Democracy of America in its initial planning phases for what would eventually become the Brotherhood of the Cooperative Commonwealth in Washington state.

Utopian socialism — efforts to build model communities that attempted to demonstrate the superiority of collectivism in the midst of capitalist society — is mocked in the literature of International Socialism as inevitably doomed due to the financial pressure exerted by the capitalist economic system. Debs came to share such a viewpoint within about a year and a half or so of his new self-identification as a socialist in 1897 — but the Utopian millennialism of the era, which drew energy and broad inspiration from a 1888 novel by Edward Bellamy, was briefly an instrumental part of his world.

I mention this book and these facts now only because Bellamy has reared his head in Debs’s writings for the first time this week in a February 1890 review of the Boston novelist’s masterpiece of political fiction, Looking Backward, 2000-1887. In his summary for Firemen’s Magazine readers, Debs mentions his copy was the printing including the 154,000th copy, which means he wasn’t an early purchaser of the book. The degree that Bellamy influenced his thought is an interesting question of intellectual history, a matter that must be addressed no later than Vol. 2 of this project.

I blundered into the perfect Grover Cleveland biography for me. Fattypants Cleveland was, of course, the President that sent out the troops to crush the 1894 ARU strike led by Debs and a biographical subject of great importance to me. Over the last 100 years there have been Cleveland biographies strewn all over the map, ranging from the hagiographic to the bitterly antagonistic. Was Cleveland an under appreciated, earnest, and honest chief executive and forerunner of progressivism with measures like the Interstate Commerce law? An arch-reactionary “Bourbon Democrat” defender of big capital and corporate interest? Piles of metal shavings from the finely whetted political axes of historians have been heaped high arguing the matter. It takes a while to figure these things out just randomly falling into a shelf of books and there could be a lot of time wasted in the process. I’m not a historian of the 1880s by inclination, but rather a historian of the 1910s and 1920s, one full generation later.

Fortunately for me, Robert E. Welch, Jr.’s The Presidencies of Grover Cleveland (University Press of Kansas, 1988) is just what the doctor ordered: a scholarly survey of the literature along with the author’s compelling personal take on Cleveland’s ideology and policies. Welch rejects the “Bourbon” label for Cleveland and the tendency of some to cast him as a corporation-worshipping arch-reactionary, instead arguing for a rather unintellectual, practically-driven, assertive conservative who believed in individualism and free trade while — with some contradiction — at the same time expanding the executive powers of the Presidency. From Mayor of Buffalo for one year to Governor of New York to the White House (twice) through the magic of “Cleveland luck”…

I’ve really been diving into the book. It is steering me towards additional background material about the era I will be writing about this summer in the way that only a really good scholarly book can do.

 I also managed to pick up up two more long runs of newsy publications on microfilm — Puck  (1878-1918) a Republican weekly modeled on the British Tory publication Punch; and The Arena (1889-1909), a liberal monthly essay magazine. Debs actually wrote for the latter publication twice, “The Significance of Labor Day” in October 1895 and “Socialist Ideals” in November 1908.

That computerized database of every known Debs article is pretty slick, huh?


 “Open Letter to P.M. Arthur of the B of LF” — Dec. 1889 open letter — 2,325 words

 “The Knights of Labor and the Farmers” — Jan. 1890 article — 770 words

 “Andrew Carnegie on “Best Fields for Philanthropy’” — Feb. 1890 article — 2,230 words

 “Austin Corbin — Russianizer” — Feb. 1890 article — 2,725 words

 “Looking Backward, 2000-1887” — Feb. 1890 article — 2,620 words

 “Do We Want Industrial Peace?” — March 1890 article — 1,700 words

 “Knights of Labor to Shape Own Destiny” — March 1890 article — 310 words

 “Mrs. Lenora M. Barry: General Instructor and Director of Woman’s Work, Knights of Labor” — May 1890 article — 3,150 words

 “The Eight-Hour Movement” — May 1890 article — 3,050 words

 “The Improvement in Railway Management” — June 1890 article — 2,400 words

 “The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Federation” — June 1890 article — 975 words

 “Conductors Overwhelmingly Endorse Protection” — June 1890 article — 800 words

 “Eight-Hour Day a Righteous Demand” — July 1890 article — 1,975 words

 “The Higher Education of Women vs. Marriage” — July 1890 article — 2,000 words

….Word count 407,750 words in the can + 27,030 this week = 434,780 words

• 9 more Saturdays to go until the July 1 target for the end of output of editable text. There are still 163 article pdfs remaining to be processed (or rejected at second reading).

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Four cents a mile (17-10)


 Hey, nice photo of a train wreck from the 1888 Burlington strike, eh? I actually bumped into this on Wikimedia Commons, it was an image originating in a book that I had been working with to write the WP article on that extremely important Debs-related event. Twenty minutes of Photoshop editing it starts to look pretty compelling, does it not? The image is of the aftermath of a collision which took place on Feb. 27, 1888 (the day of the start of the strike) at the crossing of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad’s line. The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy was subject to a labor stoppage on that day by its engineers and firemen who wanted to be paid a flat rate by the mile like other competing lines running out of Chicago instead of according to a complex company rate book that factored in difficulty of each route, trip length, cargo, and tenure of the employee.


I must be getting old because I’m starting to prefer toned coins like this instead of those that are dipped to be “bright white.”

Not accidentally, under the Burlington pay system the employees of the CB&Q wound up being paid significantly less than did equivalent employees on rival lines. Also not accidentally, the CB&Q was an extremely profitable business concern in this period and was in no hurry to change their economically advantageous pay system.

Just about every single engineer and fireman joined the stoppage — more than 97% of the road’s 2,100-some-odd cab employees took part. With the key running employees off the job, the company pressed everybody and their dog into service, putting pencil-pushers and maintenance workers and conductors and foremen behind the throttle and at the shovel in an attempt to keep the line running. Some trains went BOOM as a result, because not every pencil-pusher can run a train safely. BOOM!!!

The strike was extremely bitter and lasted until early January 1889. It ended with the railroad achieving retention of its established pay system, but the privilege cost them an estimated $5 million in lost business. Some of the striking employees were rehired, many others were replaced. Everybody lost out. So it goes.


 I found a pretty nice example of the vilification that Debs had to face in the press during the height of the 1894 Pullman boycott, when he was for a time Public Enemy No. 1. The cartoon, from the front page of the right wing Los Angeles Times of July 11, 1894, reprints a bogus “Associated Press dispatch” that reads: “Dr. B.T. Robertson, the New York specialist, knows Eugene V. Debs and treated him in past for a serious case of dipsomania [alcoholism]. His system broke down completely under constant alcoholic excess, and he became a mental and physical wreck. Dr. Robertson sent a telegram to Debs on Thursday night, warning him that he was in no condition to enter upon such an undertaking as the managing of the great ARU strike. ‘I consider him to be almost, if not fully, irresponsible,’ said Dr. Robertson, ‘and I told him so in my telegram. He will break down physically and mentally as soon as the strain is over, if not before, and will probably relapse into his former dissipated habits.’”

The drawing depicts a drunken Debs knocking over his ink pot and trashing his office amidst a maniacal fluttering array of strike orders. You should be able to make out the cartoon’s caption pretty clearly. “Fake News” and bogus pictorial memes are no recent invention…

 I spent one of my three book-work days reading and working a bit on the American Labor Union page on Wikipedia, uploading convention proceedings for the ALU, the IWW, and the Western Federation of Miners to Archive.org, and compiling scanned pages of the New York Call, a Socialist Party daily newspaper, into pdf files. This stuff actually does relate to the Debs project, but only to later volumes. I have to watch myself so that I don’t get sidetracked — which is an old time railroading term, by the way. I learned a lot about Western miner radicalism, but this isn’t the time to fully debrief on it…

DenverI will, however, share one key insight I have gained. During the 1890s for the first few years of the 20th Century, Denver was the second city of the American West. It was not Seattle (42,800 population in 1890) or Los Angeles (50,400) or Portland (46,400) but Denver (106,700) that was the second largest industrial hub of the region.

Denver was center of metal mining — including companies which manufactured heavy industrial equipment for that burgeoning industry. Denver was the locus of the wealth extracted by that hard rock mining and the site of conflict between the owning class and the working class.

Denver was to San Francisco as Chicago was to New York City. So it makes perfect sense that it would emerge as  the headquarters city of the organizational center of western trade union radicalism, the Western Federation of Miners and the trade union federation it launched, the American Labor Union.

• 10 more Saturdays to go until we hit the July 1 target for the end of production of of Debs-written editable text. There are still 195 article pdfs remaining to be processed (or rejected at second reading)…

We’ve started cutting the 1877-1885 material. I did a physical printout of articles and got my sharpie marking… We’re looking at something in the range of 75 to 100 pages out of 700 or so dedicated to the early “conservative labor editor” stuff. David pulled one back from the burn barrel but we’re still sitting north of 100 pages and need to sharpen our knives.


29-schnittkind-cover My new library acquisitions this week included what has proven to be one of the most zany Debs items out there. The Story of Eugene Debs is a book by Henry T. Schnittkind, published in 1929, just a few years after EVD’s death. I’ve known of it for a while but hadn’t made getting a copy a priority, as it was said to be a children’s book — which is true. It was my understanding that it was published by the Workman’s Circle, a Jewish-Socialist fraternal benefit society based in New York City that was very closely tied to the Socialist Party of America. Which is to say: No big whoop. This turned out to be rather less true, as the book was actually published by the Independent Workmen’s Circle, not the Workmen’s Circle — a Communist-sponsored factional split-group that was transformed into the International Workers Order in 1930. In other words, this is a Communist book for kiddies rather than a Socialist book for kiddies, which makes it way, way, way more interesting from where I’m sitting.

Here’s where the story gets fascinating. This was book 1 of a projected 4 volume set of biographies called “Heroes of Peace and Liberty.” The other biographical subjects were to include Tolstoy, Socrates, and Lenin. What a peculiar set of four! But that’s not the good part. Here it is: virtually every single word of The Story of Eugene V. Debs is flat-out, unflinching, completely unapologetic fiction! Dialogs and incidents that are completely unmentioned in the literature are created from whole cloth — here and there a name, a factual date, and an odd quote plucked from the historical record, buried beneath wheelbarrow-loads of imagined events and contrived dialog worthy of the worst of Based On A True Story™ Hollywood screenwriting.

Take this exposition on the inner thoughts of little Gene, for instance:

“The Civil War was over at last, and people once more came to their senses. The North and the South shook hands, they apologized for having killed so many of the strongest and the most beautiful of the young men of the country, and everything was all right again. Everybody was happy, except the young fellows that had been killed in the war….

“Gene thought it very silly for old people to send young people to their death, and to make up a great speech about them afterwards. But, then, Gene was only nine years old, and so he kept his thoughts to himself. It wouldn’t do to tell grown-ups what you thought of them. They were so much bigger and stronger than you. They might get angry and give you a good spanking.

“But he kept his eyes open, and every day he learned more and more about the world….”

And so on and so forth. Just one after another after another made up incident designed to teach the children to whom the book was read or who read the book about the exciting life of pacifist-boy-genius-youth-orator Gene Debs and his adventures, teaching valuable lessons about war and capitalism all the while, culminating in “old Mr. Wilson” being “stubborn, as usual” and keeping the aging Gene locked in prison.

It’s an absolutely fascinating piece of Debsiana and I’ve simply gotta find that Lenin for American Tykes book…

[P.S.: I think I found the Lenin for Tykes book. Alas, it looks like I’m gonna have to learn Yiddish… Here’s the info: לענין װײזט דעם װעג /מױשע שעפריס. ]

[P.P.S.: Comrade John, who reads Yiddish, says the title is Lenin Shows The Way, by Moishe Shefris.]


 “The Future of the Order of Railway Conductors” — Feb. 1889 article — 1,125 words

 “The Strength of All for the Good of All” — Feb. 1889 article — 1,400 words

 “Labor as a ‘Commodity’” —  March 1889 — 2,210 words

 “The Church and the Workingman” — April 1889 — 1,800 words

 “Unmasking Hypocrisy” — April 1889 — 2,550 words

 “Labor Organizations” — May 1889 article — 1,700 words

 “The Political Control of Railways” — June 1889 article — 1,825 words

 “Truth and Fiction” — June 1889 article — 1,560 words

 “Federation Inaugurated” — July 1889 article — 1,190 words

 “Supreme Council of United Orders of Railway Employees Formed” — July 1889 article — 2,710 words

….Word count = 389,680 words in the can + 18,070 this week = 407,750 words

….Plus another one that I’m putting on account for Volume Four:

• “Wendell Phillips: Orator and Abolitionist” — May 1917 article — 3,760 words

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Periodization (17-09)


• Volume I of the Debs Selected Works project will include the most years of any of the four books — two full decades, 1877 to 1896. The other three volumes will encompass just three decades of Debs’s activity, 1897 until his death in 1926. This means for one thing a faster spin through the garden of his writings, which were dominated by the affairs of his beloved Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, of which he was a leading functionary (Grand Secretary and Treasurer) as well as magazine editor.

Of necessity, the axe will be wielded more severely against the early railway unionist material than it will be during the later socialist material. I’m sure that something like 95% of contemporary readers will feel this to be good and natural, but to me it is an error of omission of sorts.

• Following the historical consensus, I completely accept that there were two concrete phases of Debs as an editor — an early “conservative labor editor” phase (borrowing David Shannon’s term) which lasted until about 1886, and a later “progressive unionist” phase which culminated in Debs’s leadership of the American Railway Union.

The exact proportion of documents between these two phases remains to be determined. A 20/80 split is plausible, something of that general magnitude. The final division might prove to be greater than that — Debs actually produced much, much more material after 1886 than he did before that date. He was himself a city clerk and a state legislator through 1885. There is probably a connection to giving up as a politician and committing himself to a career as a union functionary in terms of his radicalization, but it was also a product of the times, as the gilded age of the robber barons gave way to the progressive era.


• I also see the second progressive phase of Editor Debs as actually consisting of at least two sub-phases — an initial period in which Debs repeatedly and insistently advocated and worked for the federation of the existing craft-oriented railway brotherhoods, culminating in formation of an organization of which he was part, the Supreme Council of the United Orders of Railway Employes. This group finally collapsed due to a really ugly instance of jurisdictional dirty pool involving two of the constituent organizations, the Switchmen’s Mutual Aid Association (SMAA) and the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen (BRT, which was until the year before known as the Brotherhood of Railroad Brakemen). It was a brutal episode, in which BRT officials got together with a piqued railroad and were party to the summary dismissal of 400 SMAA members and their replacement by 400 BRT members. The root of the incident was apparently a couple antagonistic personalities in one major Chicago switchyard and the greed and grand designs of union officials. The BRT really showed that antagonistic SMAA guy, didn’t they?

The collapse of Supreme Council that attempted to unite the existing mutually jealous and sometimes duplicitous railway brotherhoods pushed Debs to another discrete phase, in which he was instrumental in launching the American Railway Union. The level of antagonism between each of the brotherhoods and between the brotherhoods and the ARU is not commonly appreciated. If one wishes to understand both the motivation behind the ARU and the reason for its precipitous collapse, the internal politics have to be understood. It’s my goal to explain this, if nothing else, with volume 1.

One could make a case for one more short phase after Debs’s release from prison, when the ARU was bankrupt and its members blacklisted into underground non-existence, when Debs turned to political action in a big way through the agency of the People’s Party (the “Populists”). Still pondering this.

papercutter-sm• We are sliding towards the next aspect of the Debs Project, cutting down a projected 560,000 words to fit a 260,000 word content “hole” for volume 1. I have been working through the Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine material chronologically, beginning the week towards the end of 1888 and starting to take a big bite out of 1889. Everything is being ported over to Marxists Internet Archive as individual files, which follow my traditional 6 x 9 inch pages size, use of the Adobe Garamond font family, and use of true footnotes rather than endnotes, compiled with the Apple Pages word processor program and outputted as pdfs.

The manuscript we submit will need to have different different parameters: 8.5 by 11 inches, Times New Roman font, endnotes not footnotes, and Microsoft Word. That means there will need to be a fairly significant conversion made.

I’ve decided to make half the switch at this point, keeping my preferred page size and word processor program, but switching up fonts and converting footnotes into endnotes. I’m also heavily tweaking the typography, greatly reducing header size and moving publication info from the top to the bottom in the style used by Bob Constantine in his published three volume edition of Debs letters.

This will keep things comfortable for David and me to read and review as part of the selection process while expediting the creation of a final manuscript.

• Kind of a slow week in the file-creation department as I spent considerable time converting files and writing a Wikipedia article on the 1888 Burlington strike. I figured on spending half a day on the article, wound up getting half done at the cost of one of my three days off — there was a lot of reading involved. Hopefully I will get the time back this summer when I’m writing the book introduction for real. I’m looking at it as an investment. I need to spend another day in the coming week finishing up the Burlington piece, I’ll link here when I’m through.


29-painter-thatmandebs-covesm• LIBRARY ACQUISITIONS: I don’t usually make the rookie mistake of missing out on rare items that I need in my field of interest that come up for sale under market-value, but I really screwed the pooch on a nice copy of Pearson’s magazine’s 1919 pamphlet of Debs articles, Pastels of Men. I was holding off on my ABE order for two days for my credit card to “cut” for the month and wound up being one day too slow. Grrrr. Fortunately I found a scan of a beat-shit copy from the University of Michigan library via Google Books, so I now know what the content of that lesser-known pamphlet is for sure — and as a new owner of a decently-complete run of Pearson’s from the period in question, it turns out I wouldn’t have been using the reprint pamphlet version anyway, instead working from first edition magazines. Still, it doesn’t happen too often that I miss something that I really want because I failed to pull the trigger decisively. It is, like I say, a rookie mistake and it sort of sucks.

On the other hand, there are a few things that I did manage to snarf up. The most exciting is a “new” Debs biography that wasn’t even on my radar — That Man Debs, by Floy Ruth Painter, a history professor from Indiana University. It runs just 200 pages, so it is far from comprehensive, but being published in 1929 this stands as the first posthumous Debs bio and it includes snippets from direct personal interviews. It’s not bad. Not quite sure how I missed it — it just goes to show there is always something else out there waiting to be discovered. When I get a chance I will pore through the extensive bibliography in the back of the book, I have a hunch that will move me towards my next targets.

I also picked up a couple Lovestoneite pamphlets that I didn’t own yet (!!!) and a swell semi-official pamphlet on the function of trade unions published by the American Federation of Labor in 1899. I’ve got something like 5,000 pamphlets, maybe more than that, so there is a lot of filling in around the edges that takes place. Which is to say: there are a lot of edges to fill in.


• “The Aristocracy of Labor” — Nov. 1888 article —  1,725 words

• “B of LF Convention Endorses Federation” — Nov. 1888 article — 1,425 words

• “The CB&Q” — Nov. 1888 article — 1,700 words

• “Fatal Fallacies” — Dec. 1888 article — 1,900 words

• “Strikes” — Dec. 1888 article — 1,000 words

• “Speech to the Brotherhood of Railroad Brakemen” — Dec. 1888 speech — 2,075 words

• “Triumph Through Federation” — Jan. 1889 article — 2,260 words

• “The Knights of Labor” — Jan. 1889 article — 1,250 words

• “The Progress of Federation” — Jan. 1889 article — 1,950 words

• “The Brotherhood of Railway Conductors” — Feb. 1889 article — 750 words

• “The Termination of the Burlington Strike” — Feb. 1889 article — 1,675 words

• “Letter to E.E. Clark” — Jan. 1892 unpublished letter — 1,825 words


….Word count = 370,145 words in the can + 19,535 this week = 389,680 words

….Plus another one that I’m putting on account for Volume Four:

• “Recollections of Ingersoll” — April 1917 article — 4,375 words

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Moving down the tracks… (17-08)

 I am already finished reading microfilm for the first volume of the Debs Selected Works. That strikes me as being way ahead of the curve, I’m sure the feat won’t be repeated as rapidly for volumes 2, 3, and 4.

88-debs-conventionprogramengraving-smThe thing is, a large part of Debs’s (gotta get used to that Haymarket House Style!) early writing happened in the pages of Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine, the official journal of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, of which he was the paid editor for a dozen years. All those issues have been scanned by Google for their Google Books project, which means that material can be handled without leaving the laptop computer environment. Issues can be perused, articles selected and segregated, files prepared for Optical Character Recognition (OCR), output gathered, proofreading done, finished files assembled — no paper issues or microfilm necessary.

I have every known Debs article databased, which took me a long, long time — you’ve already heard me moaning about that. Now, fortunately, the dirty work is done and the benefits begin to accrue. During the tedious process of building the cumbersome database file I was spinning through Firemen’s Magazine and simultaneously skimming through and preserving individual pdf files of every potentially relevant article.

With several hundred potentially includable pieces neatly stored away, I launched an all out attack on everything else. I spun film frenetically, both the Papers of Eugene V. Debs microfilm and the runs I own of Railway Times, The Coming Nation, and Appeal to Reason. This is the phase that is now completed. Check that box.

9410-lfm-cover-sm  Next comes the OCR phase of the exercise. As this week began I had 259 remaining Firemen’s Magazine Debs article files to run through Optical Character Recognition. Since I’ve got 13 weeks until I turn into a pumpkin on July 1, this means that I need to make 20 files per week go away — about 3 files per day.

This was a pretty average week, pace-wise. I put in my 20 hours, something like that, and as I am typing this on Friday morning I have 22 articles in the can for 27,800 words. Another 11 files were rejected during the second reading, and the inventory of articles sits at 226. Assuming the file size and rejection rate I experienced this week are reasonable random samples of the remaining population, this means that there are something like 192,000 more words to come, for a grand total of 560,000 for Volume One’s 1877-1896 interval.

Simple math: the article “hole” for the book is 260,000, so there will be something like 300,000 extra words of text generated for volume 1. Keeping things in round figures, that means there will be about 750 bonus pages of edited Debs material generated.

  This begs the question: what the hell is going to happen to the reams of extra editable text that has been created?

My current thought, and don’t hold me to it, is that this material may well be published as an eBook placed into the public domain. Then it is just a matter of nature taking its course with the myriad of “print on demand” goobers on eBay finding the files and making hard copy books out of them and vending them to anyone interested. It’s not like more than a handful of  people are going to want to track down that material in book form anyway, barring a strange and unexpected resurgence in interest in reading Gene Debs esoterica…

There is a certain brilliant simplicity to this idea as far as getting this material into print and distributed, it must be admitted. I’m still pondering things. Another alternative would be for me to become the “print on demand” goober on eBay myself, which would increase my control over the output at the cost of a pain in my backside.  Option 3 would be to turn the production and distribution over to Marxists Internet Archive, who could make a few badly needed bucks at it, with me retaining a certain amount of control of the end product. There are cases to be made for all of these options.


18-holman-howcover  New additions to the library this week include huge microfilm runs of two important national news and politics magazines, The Outlook (1894-1935) and The Forum (1886-1940). Total tab for 59 reels of film, postpaid from Alabama: $55 — 93 cents a reel! That’s almost free. Also scored another lot of Pearson’s magazine from 1915, 1916, and the first half of 1917 — nice copies for about $3 an issue, postpaid, which is also stealing.

I also managed to pick up a 100 year old socialist pamphlet from Ohio that doesn’t appear in WorldCat, meaning that for the moment it appears to be the only specimen known. It wasn’t too big of a cash hit as these things go, $25 — which would be less than 25% of the cost of a unique sales tax token or 10% of the cost of a unique socialist political button, just guessing. Collector prices are what they are and “cheap” and “expensive” are relative. Twenty-five bucks for such a thing is really good value.


 “Pullman” — Jan. 1887 article — 1,225 words

 “The Chicago Anarchists” — Jan. 1887 article — 1,550 words

 “Politics”— Jan. 1887 article — 730 words

 “Abolitionists” — Feb. 1887 article — 1,275 words

 “Will Labor Organizations Federate?” — Feb. 1887 article —  1,125 words

 “Land, Labor, and Liberty” — Aug. 1887 article — 975 words

 “The Contemplated Treaty with Russia” — Aug. 1887 article — 2,350 words

“Child Labor” — Sept. 1887 article — 1,350 words

“Cooperation and Arbitration” — Oct. 1887 article — 1,025 words

 “Joining Labor Organizations” — March 1888 article — 1,000 words

 “Federation, the Lesson of the Great Strike” — April 1888 — 1,500 words

 “The Policy of the Order of Railway Conductors” — May 1888 — 2,375 words

 “The Great Strike” — May 1888 — 1,950 words

 “Federation of Labor Organizations for Mutual Protection” — June 1888 — 825 words

 “The Record of the CB&Q Strike” — June 1888 — 1,000 words

 “The Situation” — July 1888 — 1,300 words

 “The Common Laborer” — July 1888 — 650 words

 “Invincible Man” — July 1888 — 750 words

 “Home Rule in Ireland” — Aug. 1888 — 1,375 words

 “The Pinkertons” — Aug. 1888 — 1,425 words

 “The CB&Q and Pinkerton Conspiracy” — Aug. 1888 — 2,050 words

 “Equality of Conditions” — Sept. 1888 — 950 words

 “Federation” — Sept. 1888 — 1,160 words

 “Night and Morning” — Sept. 1888 — 1,725 words

….Word count = 338,505 words + 31,640 this week = 370,145 words

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A long story for a long book… (17-07)

• My friend David Walters saw Debs as a project before I did. From about 2004 to 2009 I was focused on what I still consider the main historical project in my life — a three volume work on a very few MIA-frontpageyears of left wing political history, 1916 to 1924. Yeah, those dates have meaning. My vision is to tie together the story of the attenuation of the Socialist Party and the Industrial Workers of the World and the Communist Party’s emergence and growth in the superheated political environment of world war and European revolution. Parts of this story have been narrated  many times; other aspects of the saga have never been told. To my mind it has never really been done right, although the Philip Foner’s 10-volume History of the Labor Movement in the United States at least touches most of the bases, no matter how tendentiously.

Anyway I built a website to house my “reading notes in very long form” (Early American Marxism website) so that I could not only organize and rapidly access my work but also share my findings and I started assembling documents. This effort attracted the notice of a volunteer at one of the established Marxist history websites (Marxists Internet Archive), which started to mirror my content in a more visible manner. I became a fully fledged volunteer there, which is how I met David — one of the two or three de facto coordinators of the site.

As I was typing up full documents for my book project, I paid particular attention to several key individuals whose intellectual trajectory would carry my tale. Always steal from the best: that is how Ted Draper structured his seminal volumes, The Roots of American Communism and American Communism and Soviet Russia — the work I would be following half a century later and effectively replacing. One of these main individuals in my story happened to be Jay Lovestone — whom I ended up spending a year on a while ago as co-pilot of a radical scholar’s book project (eventually published as The “American Exceptionalism” of Jay Lovestone and His Comrades, but see the working title below). Another of these key political actors was Gene Debs.

Lovestone-bookMarxists Internet Archive (MIA) is structured a bit strangely. The basic site is built around the writings of individuals — all of Marx here, all of Lenin there, all of Trotsky on another page, Kautsky on still another, and so forth — all with server access pretty tightly restricted so that only one or two or a very few volunteers have access to any particular index page to keep the works from getting effed up. I was doing my own thing as part of a “US History section” mirroring content of my site but I didn’t want to screw around with MIA’s html pages, which were not a direct replication of my own primitive “frames”-based website but had its own very definite form. David Walters emerged as the adapter of my stuff and my handler of sorts, converting my material to the official MIA site structure.

Along the way he started posting some of my documents in parallel — listing things not only in the largely unvisited “US History section” index pages but also according to the writer of the document in the Preferred MIA Mode. Thus all of the Eugene V. Debs documents that I typed up began to migrate to a single place — an already existing “Eugene V. Debs Internet Archive.” I was churning them out as fast as I came across them for my future History of American Radicalism, 1916-1924 book(s). The rare Debs pieces started to stack up.

Debs is a big figure in the history of American radicalism, respected and revered then and now both by social democrats like myself and small-c communists like David. It’s hard to think of another individual with similar “crossover appeal” between the reformist and revolutionary left. David was interested. I was interested. And it was becoming clear that there was an enormous pool of Debs material out there. It struck him as really weird that nobody had ever done a proper job of putting together Debs’s writings in a coherent way. David started to nudge me a little — why not get serious about gathering everything together and putting out Debs’ Collected Works?

MECW-38Any Marxist can tell you that there’s a world of difference between “Collected Works” and “Selected Works.” The latter generally means one or two or three volumes of the most important stuff, with tons of lesser material and fluff left behind. The former includes literally everything written or spoken by a person and that gets big fast. Lenin’s Polnoe sobraniie sochineniia (“Complete Collected Works”) ran to 55 thick volumes in Russian, with the slightly truncated English edition tipping in at 45. The Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe (“Complete Edition”) runs to 44 volumes in German, some of these in multiple parts, and 50 volumes in English. Russian or English collected works have never even been completed for Leon Trotsky, despite the size and fervor of his political following. The subset of Trotsky’s 1929-1940 material alone that is not included in his three foot shelf of freestanding books runs to 14 volumes in English — that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Bear in mind that all of these Collected Works projects took teams of scholars decades to produce. Moral: Collected Works = BIG.

“It is too much for one person to do a Collected Works of Eugene Debs,” I told David. I had no idea how many Debs writings were out there, but I guesstimated several thousand and further extrapolated that this would require a total of 14 or so thick volumes. That’s turned out to be a pretty good estimate — just north of 4,000 works and more like 18 volumes would be my current, smarter guesses. Maybe three people working hard for a decade could get it done, I speculated. And there the idea sat for several years. I turned my attention to Wikipedia, figuring that it was the best use of my time improving the historical coverage on that ubiquitous website. Nevertheless, I continued to type up Debs material for MIA as I bumped into it. The list of Debs works continued to expand. Over time I gradually began to ponder the idea of a Selected Works of limited size. That might be a plausible goal. David was all for it and became the project’s biggest cheerleader.

380809-lovestone-smIn the meantime, I got drafted into working on the Lovestone book mentioned above. The connection was made through my own website, I think, anybody working on Lovestone seriously and running Google searches would have come into contact with my documents at some point, as I had gathered material on the Lovestoneites running into the 1930s. I wound up spending the better part of a year on that project and learned a lot in terms of the publishing process and the dos and don’ts of editing a “documents” book. I can’t emphasize enough that the Lovestone book wasn’t my vision, that I was only the co-pilot. I have finally learned to not hate it, which is a baby step for me, I was pretty discouraged near the end there… I did manage to sneak one chapter into the work that approximated my vision — I’m sure my co-editor Paul LeBlanc hates that particular contribution (it does stick out like a sore thumb from the rest of the book), but he’s a prolific guy who is already about half a dozen projects down the road from Lovestone by now. Maybe the Lovestone will come out in paperback this year and more than a dozen will actually see it, who knows? Anyway, I know what I do and don’t want to do this time around. There is no substitute for experience.

And so there you have it. Not every detail of the Eugene V. Debs: Selected Works project has been decided. We do known that there will be four fat volumes produced, and all signs are that there will be enough additional material generated to constitute the equivalent of four more volumes. Beyond that there will be at least that much more material left behind. I have been greatly aided in my task by two scholars who have come before me, Bob Constantine and Gail Malmgreen, who conducted a project to assemble and microfilm the collected writings and letters of Eugene Debs during the early 1980s, which has meshed with my own independent work marvelously, setting me up to do what I do well. The story of their work a third of a century ago and how I blundered into it remains for another day.

The bottom line is that it is indeed possible for one or two people to get a really good Debs Selected Works together in four years — which is absolutely jamming as these sort of projects go.

We’ll see.

We finally got the contract all squared away. Haymarket promises to do both hardcover and paper, with price of the hardcover capped at $125 (although they expect it to be substantially less). That sounds like an insanely high price, trust me it is not. If they manage to bring this thing in under $100 a volume that will be a big win for libraries and people who take books seriously.

David and I had a nice conference call with a couple of the comrades at Haymarket who will be working on the project on the publishers’ side and everything is good. They’re stoked about the project, which is all we could ever ask.

My girlfriend Laura and I had a nice dinner with John and Sue from Bolerium Books of San Francisco, who were passing through Corvallis. I was actually a Debs seller rather than a buyer this time around, sending the five bound volumes I had collected (out of 14) of Debs-edited Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine back into the world. Between Google Books’ pdfs and backup copies of all the editorials on the Debs Papers microfilm, the hardcopy was an unnecessary duplicate to me. Moreover, it was a run that I was clearly never going to finish given the rarity of the title in the marketplace. Individual issues with covers still hold an appeal and I’ll buy a few more of those as they appear on eBay, but the thick bound volumes were just taking up space. (Besides, I needed to pay the piper for the stack of New Masses volumes I obtained last week.)

During dinner I learned that Sue (a historian) had done extensive work on the Martin Luther King papers project, even taking the lead on a couple of those volumes. Small world.


• “Speech to the Indiana Legislature Renominating Daniel W. Voorhees” — Jan. 1885 speech — 1,250 words

“A Day and Its Duties” — March 1885 article — 1,570 words

• “War Clouds” — June 1885 article — 1,920 words

• “When 100 Years Are Gone” — July 1885 article — 1,750 words

• “Standing Armies” — Aug. 1885 article — 1,360 words

“Dynamite and Legitimate Warfare” — Oct. 1885 article — 1,375 words

• “Employees the Wards of Employers” — April 1886 article — 1,000 words

• “Reformations” — April 1886 article — 1,075 words

• “Overproduction” — April 1886 article — 1,175 words

• “Current Disagreements Between Employers and Employees” — May 1886 article — 2,025 words

• “T.V. Powderly and the Knights of Labor” — May 1886 article — 3,100 words

• “Boycotting” — June 1886 article — 2,400 words

• “The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen“ — July 1886 article — 5,950 words

• “Why Eight Hours for a Day’s Work” — July 1886 article — 2,700 words

• “More Soldiers” — Aug. 1886 article — 1,100 words

• “The Coming Workingman” — July 1895 article — 1,375 words

“Labor Omnia Vincit (Labor Conquers Everything)” — Aug. 1895 article — 980 words

• “Term Half Over” — Aug. 1895 interview — 1,475 words

• “Open Letter to Alfred S. Edwards” — June 1896 letter — 650 words

….Word count = 306,475 words + 32,030 this week = 338,505 words

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