(19-09) The IWW Split of 1906


Daniel DeLeon was largely responsible for the 1906 split of the Industrial Workers of the World, a division which resulted in two parallel organizations spending money they could not afford on doubled up salaries, offices, and newspapers.

Proceedings of the ... Annual Convention of the Industrial Worke

Although 4,000 copies of the stenographic report of the 2nd Convention were produced, the inventory was controlled by the Sherman faction and they sold poorly to the group’s dwindling membership. Original editions are a bibliographic rarity today, with the copy scanned by Google still showing the $550 price tag of a prominent radical bookseller.

Let us be clear on that point from the outset. One needs only to read the record of the IWW’s second convention, held in Chicago over a 17-day period beginning September 17, 1906, to understand that reality.

DeLeon was an impossibilist, a believer in a disciplined and centralized vanguard party to educate and thereby help generate the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism by an enlightened minority of the working class. His Socialist Labor Party was to be that nexus for change. DeLeon was ready and willing and more than able to spend more than two weeks as an extremely active convention delegate, battling in the trenches every single day over credentials and committees and resolutions in an effort to decide the fate of a national industrial union organization.

SLP partisans were sectarian and dismissive in their attitude toward others, so certain were they of their scientific correctness at all times and in all situations. The party’s extremist agenda, pointedly foregoing a minimum program entirely, and long history of efforts at dual union-organizing bought them some credibility with anarcho-syndicalist industrial unionists, but the balance on this account was not bottomless.

At heart they were politicians, not organizers in the shop — attempting to pull the strings of what they saw as trade union puppets.

The party led. The unions followed. They were proto-communists.†

•          •          •          •          •

060717-debs-chautauquaDebs and the Socialist Party, for all their protestations to the contrary, were reformist international socialists in the tradition of the Second International. They genuflected to Europe and genuinely looked to the more experienced European socialist parties for leadership. The Socialists were obsessively election campaign-driven — they reprinted and reprinted and reprinted ad nauseam the total number of “socialist votes cast” in each election over recent years as if that totem were a pivotal metric of the coming social revolution.

They believed in the vote as both strategy and tactic — they earnestly sought to win state power via the ballot box. They quickly became realistic about the lengthy timetable necessary for accomplishing this, but their quasi-religious faith in the transformative power of the vote never wavered.

Little else mattered. They would ultimately win some Great November, they believed — this was the form of their moral certitude.

After all, the iron logic of history was on their side.

As for Debs, he spent the summer of 1906 lecturing on socialism to crowds of hundreds and thousands on the remunerative Chautauqua circuit across the rural Midwest. You wouldn’t have found him mucking about in a 17 day Chicago convention to depose the leader of the IWW for love or money. That was simply not his element.

Debs was a public speaker. It was his job and it was his mission.

•          •          •          •          •


William E. Trautmann (1869-1940) was the deposed editor of the St. Louis Brauer-Zeitung, a bilingual socialist newspaper issued by the city’s Brewery Workers’ Union.

The anarcho-syndicalists — the “industrialists” — were another breed altogether. These had little patience for lawyers and middle-class newspaper editors, even if such antipathy objectively smacked more than a little of self-hatred. To them, the “Slowcialists” were on the wrong path entirely with their obsession with electoral politics. The SLP, although closer to the mark, were seen as manipulators who played factional games and alienated rather than getting down to business and organizing.

The industrialists ultimately won control of the IWW and made the organization in their image — but the new baby only barely survived the birthing process, which involved a split, an abandonment, and another split.

The first of these events came in 1906. It pitted two factions of the syndicalists, a left wing faction (led by IWW Secretary-Treasurer Trautmann) and a moderate faction (led by IWW President Charles O. Sherman), with Daniel DeLeon throwing his weight behind the radicals and effectively directing a break.

Here’s an outline of that story.

•          •          •          •          •

The 1906 Split of the IWW, redux

iww-logo-smThe split of the Industrial Workers of the World into two parallel organizations took place at the organization’s second convention, which convened in Chicago on September 17, 1906. It was attended by 93 delegates.(fn. Vincent St. John, The IWW: Its History, Structure, and Methods. Chicago: IWW, n.d. [c. 1920]; p. 7.) The conclave adjourned sine die following a substantial speech by Daniel DeLeon and three cheers for the IWW.

It is easy to see that the factional leaders were on one side President Charles O. Sherman and his supporters and on the other side an alliance between General Secetary-Treasurer W.E. Trautmann and éminence grise Daniel DeLeon — but the exact mechanics of the split were previously unclear to me.

I’m starting to figure things out.

This was not, on the face of it, a battle between a corrupt administration and honest reformers. It was a split over ideological principles, exacerbated by a personality conflict and a desire to capture or hold paid employment — as is the case with most radical party splits of the early twentieth century. Ideas — personalities — jobs.

First, a bit on the ideological motivation of the two factions. This is an extract from the report to the convention by President Sherman, delivered on September 24:

The [IWW] was lauched upon the troubled seas of labor in a period when that small portion of labor which claimed to be oganized was almost in a chaotic state, owing to the dissatisfaction that had taken a firm hold of the minds of its members. The excuse for this dissatisfaction varies… Some believe that trade unionism fails to protect the workers’ interests because of the disloyalty of its members, while others believe it if though mismanagement by their officers.

I feel that I strike the keynote when I assert that the system of society is wholly responsible, and not the individual; but I am of the belief that the Industrial Workers can give relief to the workers under the present system, although I know that the time must come when we must have a complete abolition of the competitive system… * * *

Your president believes that greater care should be used in selecting literature that shall be distributed at mass meetings called for the purpose of educating the workers on industrial unionism. I feel that literature bearing on any complexion of a political nature should be barred from any economic industrial meeting, and that all organizers, or speakers, working under instructions from the Industrial Workers of the World shall enforce such principles.

Your president mentions this in his report because he has had the experience. Many times he has found at meetings which he has attended and addressed, men representing political organizations [i.e. the Socialist Party, the Socialist Labor Party] distributing political literature and, in places, having the same on sale.

It is the belief of your president that in many instances this has worked detrimental to the purpose for which such meeting was called, as it makes an impression upon many who attend such meetings…and they go away with the firm belief that the Industrial Workers of the World is a part of some political organization. Your president does not hesitate to say that, in his belief, if the Industrial Workers of the World is not kept clear from all political agitation for the next few years to come, at the very best, it will be impossible to build up an industrial organization of the working class under their present frame of mind….

Your president has very little faith in the ballot, and looks upon it as merely a paper-wad. At the best, it is only a paper expression, or reflex, of labor. The real weapon that will and must be used by the workers when organized is the cessation of work. This must be done systematically, momentarily, and to be known as a “general strike.” (fn. Charles O. Sherman, “President’s Report,” in Proceedings of the Second Annual Convention of the Industrial Workers of the World: Held at Chicago, Illinois, Sept. 17 to Oct. 3, 1906. Chicago: Industrial Workers of the World [Sherman faction], 1906; pp. 42-45.)

In other words — peeling aside any personal interest by Sherman or anyone else may or may not have had in the position at the head of the IWW for its paid railroad costs, hotel bills, meals, and incidentals — Sherman was anti-political, anti-political party, a syndicalist.


Daniel DeLeon (1852-1914), intellectual leader of the Socialist Labor Party, was Gene Debs’s nemesis on the left. The pair were very briefly allies during the second half of 1905 and the first half of 1906.

Daniel DeLeon was clearly a true master of parliamentary procedure. One can’t read stenographic convention reports and escape that conclusion. If there was a timely objection to be made, DeLeon was there to make it.

During this fight DeLeon made alliance with the #2 person in the IWW officer structure, former Brewery Workers’ editor William E. Trautmann. This seems to have been a temporary alliance of expedience, as Trautmann seems to have actually shared Sherman’s general political view — his belief in the primacy of the union movement and disdain for political socialism. The antipathy toward IWW President Sherman was greater, and DeLeon and Trautmann allied to force Sherman’s removal. A profligate spender of party funds traveling the country to speak and organize, Sherman was not corrupt so much as he was ineffectual. Sherman was simply not able to organize new local unions of the IWW commensurate with the outlay on train fare, hotel rooms, and “incidentals.” The fact that he did not properly itemize his petty cash expenditures on the road was a mere pretext.

The means of removing Sherman from power was to simply abolish his position of president, which DDL (quite rightfully, it would seem) characterized as “mainly, essentially, and exclusively an organizer, a general organizer, with a high-sounding title and the necessary wages and expenses to match.”(fn. Daniel DeLeon, comments of Sept. 27, in Proceedings of the Second Annual Convention…, op. cit., p. 225.)

But this was not all.

DDL and the Constitution Committee went after the Metal and Machinery Department, Sherman’s bailiwick in the organization. This was effectively decommissioned by a raising the minimum number of dues-paying members to activate an IWW department from 3,000 to 10,000. (Incidentally, the heads of each of these departments sat on the General Executive Board and were paid IWW functionaries, I believe.)

This change was to take effect immediately, with the effect that all delegates representing the Metal and Machinery Department on the floor of the convention still in session [Sherman’s friends and allies] were to be immediately unseated — and this after the delegates had spent a full week (!!!) fighting among themselves over the naming of a Credentials Committee and battling over challenges of credentials!‡ Not only would Sherman’s allies be unseated as delegates by this move, but so would Sherman himself…

This immediate unseating was pushed to a vote by DeLeon, over an attempt by the chair to rule his draconian interpretation out of order. In the vote on this narrow question (with representatives of big organizations like the Western Federation of Miners voting large blocs of votes) the finally tally was rendered: Team DeLeon 331, Team Sherman 301. Sherman was effectively removed both as an officer of the organization and as a delegate to the convention in the middle of its activity!

This fundamental structural change to the organization’s constitution, including the elimination of the position of president, were to be put into effect by the convention without a ratification referendum to the rank and file membership, the delegates decided. Sherman was enraged and the implied lack of legitimacy of this decision-making process was what precipitated the split:

[The IWW] only would have, according to the wording, three members on the [General] Executive Board. They would be, one from the Mining Department [WFM], one General Secretary-Treasurer [Trautmann], and one an Assistant General Secretary-Treasurer…. Delegate Veal says that they are going to make the organizers go into the industrial centers. Who is going to make them? He says they are going to make them go into the industrial centers and organize. There is nobody of authority in the organization. * * *

I want to say to you right here, and serve notice on you, that I am not asking anything of the Industrial Workers of the World. I did not ask for the position that I have occupied, and I do not ask for anything now. There is nothing in your keeping that I am looking for, only this: I ask you to submit to the rank and file that is going to and has supported this organization an opportunity either to endorse or reject your work in this convention, and if you do I will assure you that the rank and file will turn it down flat.

And Mr. DeLeon does not dare to go to the rank and file; he does not. I defy you to ask us to go to the rank and file and ask an endorsement. You daren’t do it. You are a coward, and you daren’t leave the decision to the rank and file.(fn. Sherman, comments of Sept. 27, in Proceedings of the Second Annual Convention…, op. cit., p. 234.)

The delicate flower Daniel DeLeon took immediate exception to these words from the floor, rising to demand a point of order striking the phrase “coward” from the record as unparliamentary.

He lost on that question but he won the really big ones at the 1906 IWW convention, including the matter of whether the changes to the constitution at the Second Convention needed to be submitted to the rank and file for ratification via the referendum. They never were. This, to DeLeon, made perfect sense:

Our organization, our constitution, was born in the throes of travail of last year’s convention. It was born as we all are born, covered all over with dirt and slime and putrefaction.

We have divided ourselves in this convention into two camps, both considering themselves constitutionalists. For the sake of argument I shall concede that both are sincere, and I do believe that both are. There is this difference between them: that one camp holds that what was born was the child, and that camp is trying to save that child and wipe it clean of the dirt and the slime and the blood with which it is covered. Whereas the other constitutionalists are trying to throw the child into the slop bucket, and are trying to save the dirt and the slime and the putrefaction with which that child was born.

That is the difference, and I think it is positively comical to see men who stand convicted before this convention of having trampled on the principles of the constitution by the deposition and imposition of officers — men who have refused the referendum, men who have suspended locals because they did not submit to the men who lined up with those elements — I think it is positively comical to have such elements come and kowtow to the rank and file, or start off screeching like howling dervishes, “Referendum!” No, away with such comedy! … We do not propose to allow a great principle [the referendum] to be turned into a comical farce or to allow its edge to be turned against itself.(fn. Daniel DeLeon, comments of Sept. 28, in Proceedings of the Second Annual Convention…, op. cit., p. 252.)

Deposed President Sherman was not far wrong when he declared as a parting shot:

As you all know too well, those of you were in the last convention and those of you who served as the foundation stones, that while we started out approximately with a large membership, yet outside of the Department of Mining the organization was in a state of chaos. When Brother Trautmann and I took the office we went practically into the office empty-handed, and to this day I do not know what we would have done had it not been for the fact that we took over the property of the ALU with an agreement that we would pay off the standing indebtedness. * * *

We worked as mechanics worked in former year with our crude tools. We worked as brothers and cooperated in every act, until the very opening of our office, when Brother Trautmann came to me and said, “Brother Sherman, there is such an avalanche of work and correspondence here… do you not think it best to employ Brother Riordan, who has been in the office of the ALU and understands their locals…?” I immediately agreed, because I wanted to cooperate with him. * * *

Brother Trautmann and I never quarreled. We have had hot words in argument, but it always ended friendly…. He has traveled considerably with me, and he will have to take the terrible stigma upon his back of putting up at the same plutocratic hotels that your president did; we always roomed in the same hotel. My contention is this: that no organization at this time can exist without there is a government, and that the head of that government must be vested with certain powers and functions that he is empowered to carry out which the rank and file will respect. * * *

I regret that there are two sides to this convention. To the very depths of my heart do I regret it, because the action of this convention meant much as to the outcome of the case now pending in the Supreme Court [on the Haywood-Moyer affair]…

The records of this convention will show the plutocratic powers that they need have no fear of the Industrial Workers of the World’s influence or power, because the Industrial Workers of the World today is a corpse; the spirit will always live, and it will grow, but as an organization the Industrial Workers of the World is now ready for the funeral. * * *

In this convention I want to serve notice that your ex-president’s hands have been tied, but I want to serve notice that he is not licked. The fight ain’t over; it has just started.”(fn. Sherman, comments of Sept. 28, in Proceedings of the Second Annual Convention…, op. cit., p. 268-269.)

By the way, Debs did not appear at the Second Convention of the IWW, even for a day. He sent a virtually content-free congratulatory telegram at the opening which was dutifully read into the record. That’s it. He did not attempt to pull factional strings behind the scenes, and if he was kept abreast of the proceedings at all, there is no surviving record of the same. He was, as usual, above the fray — checked out from factional politics and pursuing his own agenda doing other things in other places.

While the pivotal Second Convention of the IWW was going on in Chicago, the outcome of which would be resolved in a very hands-on manner by his rival Daniel DeLeon, Debs was on tour in Pennsylvania, speaking for a fee on general socialist themes in Shamokin, Hazelton, Pottsville, Philadelphia, Allentown, and Allegheny, and presumably other smaller towns in the area.

The priorities and temperaments of the two top leaders of socialist parties in the period were never more clear.

•          •          •          •          •

The convention closed with a speech by Daniel DeLeon, who was called before the remaining delegates for a benediction:

I cannot express to you how happy I have felt from the time this convention settled down to work to now. For 15 years I have been made a target of the foe, and they have incarnated in me all the virtues that I have been struggling for. More than once when the convention seemed to be in a tangle, when I saw the line of cleavage between the two sides, when I saw them wrestling for life, my thoughts went back to 13 years ago [to the fight to oust Terence Powderly as head of the Knights of Labor]…

During that protracted struggle of a fortnight it became perfectly clear to me that the men with whom I was fighting to overthrow a crook in the labor movement, together with his allies — that these men with whom I was struggling … were as big as set of crooks as the crook whom we were fighting….

When I returned from Philadelphia 13 years ago I returned with mixed feelings of joy and sorrow. When I return to my home tonight, I return with unalloyed feelings of joy. Every man and woman of you who stood in this struggle — how clean you cut off the heads of the Shermans, the McCabes, the Kirkpatricks, the Cronins — all of you I take personally by the hand and tell you I am proud of having been in your company. * * *

There is a Bible story to the effect that the arch fiend took Jesus on one occasion to the top of a mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and said, “All these I give unto you if you will bow down and worship me.” The arch fiends of this movement gathered around Sherman and they said to him, “All these myriads of workingmen will we give to you if you bow down before us and put the revolutionists [the SLP] out of the IWW.” Jesus said to the arch fiend, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” Sherman succumbed. Sherman believed. Sherman proceeded upon that theory….

The danger was great. The conspiracy was deeply laid…. It was a conspiracy to squelch the revolution in this convention and to start all over again an AF of L. If we consider the odds against us, the chairmanships in the hands of a few individuals with all preparations ready, whereas we, you all know, never held a caucus and never organized our forces — if we consider that, then we must admit the danger was immense. Having escaped it we have double grounds to be delighted.(fn. Daniel DeLeon, Closing Speech, Oct. 3, 1906 in Proceedings of the Second Annual Convention…, op. cit., p. 608-610.)

The IWW was now organizationally split, financially strapped, its very existence imperiled — a mere corpse — but DeLeon and his allies had successfully orchestrated their coup, deposing the president and installing what they believed to be ideological unity.

He and the SLP would soon learn how wrong that supposition would be.



†- Interestingly, in the United States the Communist Party was formed out of a split — this being a 1919 break between left and center of the radicalized Socialist Party of America; the Socialist Labor Party looked askance at the entire process. In Great Britain, however, the Communist Party was formed more than a year later via a merger in which the radicalized British Socialist Party, Sylvia Pankhurst’s Workers’ Socialist Federation, and the majority faction of the (DeLeonist) Socialist Labor Party were the main organizational participants. The British SLP, based almost exclusively in Scotland, was a gutted shell in the aftermath, with most of its leading cadres and rank and filers alike joining the CPGB.

‡- Unfortunately, no stenographer was employed during this first week of the convention, so the so-called stenographic report of the proceedings includes only terse and unilluminating official minutes for this initial phase. There was obviously a faction fight from the onset, with both sides attempting to win majority control of the convention through the credentials process. It seems that challenges were made of ST&LA delegates by the Sherman faction and of the Metal and Machinery Department delegates by the DeLeon-Trautmann faction.



I’ve essentially finished up the year 1906 this week. My database sits at 74 Debs items for the year, of which I’ve converted 29 into editable text. There are still a couple I need to look at, but I think I’ve found everything that’s a potential “keeper” for Volume 4.

The official deadline for Eugene V. Debs Selected Works: Volume 4 is October 15, 2019. I’m setting a soft deadline of August 1 to finish the document compilation phase of the project. This means there are now 17 more Saturdays after today to get the core content section of the book assembled, with a limit for publication of approximately 260,000 words.

  • “On Farm Workers and Small Farmers: Letter to J.E. Snyder” (May 4, 1906) — 380 words
  • “Idaho Election Should Prove Historic” (July 28, 1906) — 1,760 words
  • “Organization for Emancipation” (September 1906) — 1,067 words
  • “Crumbling Capitalism” (September 1, 1906) — 675 words
  • “A Square Deal in a Round Place: Election Speech at Brand’s Park, Chicago” (Oct. 7, 1906) — 2,440 words
  • “The Labor Question and Humanity” (Oct. 15, 1906) — 477 words

Word count: 118,223 in the can + 6,799 this week +/- amendments = 125,052 words total.

David Walters will be running all of this material up on Marxists Internet Archive in coming days.

To find it, please visit the Eugene V. Debs Internet Archive


061004-mansfieldohnewsjournal-debscanyoufindHere’s the microfilm that I’ve scanned this week, available for free download. Bear in mind that there is generally a short delay between completion of the scanning and its appearance on MIA. Thanks are due to David Walters for getting this material into an accessible format.

Chicago Daily Socialist — 1906 (Oct.-Dec.), 1907 (Jan.-Feb.)

The Weekly People — 1907, 1908 (Jan.-March)

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Debs and the Haywood-Moyer Affair of 1906 (19-08)



I don’t know if I’ve ever really explained the purpose of this blog. It probably seems like a huge amount of work — all to produce a huge pile of words to sit mostly unread in a cul de sac of the internet.

I’m guessing there are three dozen people who read any given blog — and that is absolutely fine.

Seems like a ton of effort for such a small audience, does it not? What gives?

This blog achieves three things.

vol1-finalcover-smFirst and most importantly, it keeps me focused and working on Eugene V. Debs almost every single day of every single week from the first of February to the first of August. I know by this stage of my life that I am deadline-pressure driven and there is absolutely no way that a series of  275,000 word books of this sort would be anything but a massive catastrophe at sea with all lives lost unless I was working full out on the project for six months straight.

There is no “pulling an all-nighter” with books like these. These blogs give me an encroaching deadline every single week and that gets me in motion. Weird, but true.

It actually  takes longer than six months with the introduction writing and the polishing and the proofreading and so on — but six solid, flat-out months of work racing the clock every single week covers the essential amount of work to be done in assembling the basic content.

Tick… Tick… Tick… There are now 17 weeks remaining for Volume 4.

So that explains the scoreboard listing new articles and new scanning and the running word count. But what about the, you know, blog?

Well the second function of this exercise is that it helps me get started on the topics that may or may not wind up being covered in the introduction. The blog is a long-form first draft of an introduction. The biggest issue of 1906 in the world of Debs, far and away, was the Steunenberg assassination and the falsified arrest of Western Federation of Miners leaders Moyer and Haywood for the crime — just like the biggest issue of 1905 was the founding of the IWW and Debs’s place in it and the biggest event of 1907 was the move to Girard, Kansas to edit the Appeal to Reason and the biggest issue of 1908 was Debs’s travels aboard the Red Special campaign train.

Red Union, Red Paper, Red Train. Sounds like a good book title…

With the blog I start to explore a couple of the sources, put together a few thoughts, slam out a few graphics to make it look cool enough to keep people reading so that I get at least a tiny bit of feedback. It motivates me to read a few things that aren’t by Debs and it helps me figure out the books I am missing from my library. Then at the end of the six months I’ve got a huge pile of digital notes which I can cut and paste into the first raw introduction. Then the serious research process begins.

Finally comes the third function of this blog — documentation. Only a small fraction of the material from these blogs will make the cut for publication in the final volume. Certain information will appear here that will never be found anywhere else, and these bread crumbs might be of some help to students and scholars who follow.

It’s all enough to make the effort worthwhile to me.

Thanks for listening and thanks for reading.

•          •          •          •          •

The Steunenberg Assassination

At 6:35 pm on the evening of Saturday, December 30, 1905, an explosion at the west gate of the Caldwell, Idaho property of former Governor Frank Steunenberg shattered the quiet evening. Steunenberg was thrown about eight feet by the force of the blast. Still alive but badly bleeding from mortal wounds, Stuenenberg was carried inside his home and laid on a bed.


Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg (1861-1905)

“Who shot me?” the Governor asked before losing consciousness. Within thirty minutes he would be dead.

Before the night was over Idaho Governor Frank R. Gooding had offered a $5,000 state reward for information leading to the arrest of the culprit in the assassination, with county and private reward funds quickly pushing the total towards the $20,000 mark. (fn. “A Cowardly Crime,” Caldwell Tribune, vol. 24, no. 33 (Jan. 6, 1906), p. 1.)

Steunenberg had gained national infamy among the organized labor movement for having sent in the Idaho state militia to break an 1899 strike in Coeur d’Alene, earning the eternal enmity of the radical Western Federation of Miners, who were on the losing side of the labor conflict.

Arrests soon followed…

A miner named Albert E. Horsley (pseudonym Harry Orchard), a former WF of M member, was apprehended for the crime, with traces of dynamite, plaster of Paris, and twine similar to the Steunenberg bomb found in his Caldwell hotel room. (fn. Philip S. Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the United States: Volume 4, The Industrial Workers of the World, 1905-1917. New York: International Publishers, 1965; pp. 40-41).

On Jan. 8, 1906, the chief of the Denver branch of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, James McParland, was called in by Idaho Governor Frank B. Gooding. McParland had been a lead investigator of the Molly Maguires in 1877 and within two days he was ready to declare that he was “almost sure” that Horsley was the “tool” of the WF of M leadership. McParland orchestrated the transfer of Horsley from the Caldwell jail to the Boise state penitentiary, where he was held in solitary confinement for 10 days before being interviewed by McParland. (fn. Foner 4:41)

McParland met with Horsley/Orchard the first time on Jan. 22, 1906, and apparently threatened him with the death penalty unless he turned state’s witness against the WF of M leadership. He intimated that he might even go free if he could demonstrate that he was being used as a tool by others.

On Jan. 25, McParland met with Horsley-Orchard a second time in Boise, at which time he made clear that it was the leadership of the WF of M who he sought on a platter. (fn. Foner 4:41-42)
Historian Philip S. Foner wrote:

Orchard was given a clear alternative: Either name the leaders of the WF of M as the instigators of the assassination or hang! Name them and the states of Idaho and Colorado would see that Orchard was not made to pay for his crimes…. Orchard’s own confession of guilt as the man who assassinated Steunenberg would not suffice; the state of Idaho and the Pinkerton Agency were determined to liquidate the leadership of the WF of M and Orchard was to be used for that purpose. (fn. Foner 4:44)

McParland spent four days with Orchard taking his “confession” — Jan. 27, 28, 29, and 31, 1906 — during which he claimed to have participated in the murder of 18 people and various bombings over the previous 2-1/2 years. He claimed that he was assigned the Steunenberg assassination by an “inner circle” of WF of M leaders from their Denver headquarters, including President Charles Moyer, Secretary-Treasurer Big Bill Haywood, Jack Simkins of the General Executive Board, and former active member George A. Pettibone. (fn. Foner 4:45)

On Feb. 9 the so-called confession was announced and the four WF of M officials named by Orchard were indicted by the Attorney General of Idaho. Simkins vanished and could not be located but the other three were easily findable in Denver. Extradition of individuals to Idaho were were not fugitives from justice was complicated, so a warrant-free scenario was planned by McParland, who wrote to Luther M. Goddard, an associate justice on the Colorado Supreme Count. McParland and Idaho prosecutor James Hawley traveled to Denver, with the Judge arranging for the pair to meet Colorado Governor McDonald to sign extradition papers without a warrant. Then Moyer, Haywood, and Pettibone would be immediately arrested and transported aboard a special train to Idaho to face trial. (Foner 4:46-47)

pettibone-haywood-moyerMcDonald listened for 3 hours as McParland laid out the substance of the Orchard confession. A representative of the Telluride Mine Owners’ Association named Wells participated in a discussion that followed, agreeing to raise $25,000 or even $50,000 if necessary to aid in the prosecution. McParland was adamant that the Colorado Attorney General should not be brought into the loop; Governor McDonald agreed to hold the papers until the following Monday before submitting them to the Secretary of State’s office, by which time the defendants would be safely jailed in Idaho. (Foner 4:47-48)

With Moyer, Haywood, and Pettibone in jail Steve Adams, an individual implicated by Orchard as an associate in his crimes, was arrested in Haines, Oregon. Adams was taken to Boise and put in a cell with Orchard, then was brought to the prison office and introduced to McParland, who kept him up until the early hours of the morning trying to get him to confess, threatening him with hanging in Colorado if he did not comply. Adams first confessed, then recanted; he was brought to trial with the jury voting 7-4 to acquit. Two additional trials followed with the jury failing to agree; Adams was ultimately released. (Foner 4:49-50)

Moyer, Haywood, and Pettibone were arraigned on Feb. 21, 1906. (Foner 4:51)

•          •          •          •          •

Debs as a Commentator on the Haywood-Moyer Trial

Having a close relationship with the Western Federation of Miners ever since his six week tour of the west in support of the striking hard rock miners of Leadville, Colorado in early 1902, Gene Debs was enraged by the patently illegal and transparent frame-up of Moyer and Haywood as complicit in the assassination of former Governor Steunenberg. These were, after all, not only top leaders of the Western Federation of Miners, but key founders of the Industrial Workers of the World — the organization which for several months Debs had been endorsing with all the authority his station allowed.


Here’s an interesting fact which I hope to explore more next week: While Debs was writing some of the most fire-breathing ultra-revolutionary columns of his entire career he was simultaneously on tour in Southern Minnesota and Iowa, delivering toned-down paid lectures on general socialist themes to a general audience.

On tour in the Midwest, delivering paid essentially nonpartisan lectures to paying audiences under the auspices of small Socialist Party locals and sundry civic groups, Debs made use of his down time to write several inflammatory articles which gained notice and drew ire from the conservative press.

The first of these, “Diabolical Plot of Capitalists,” was written February 22 from Southern Minnesota and directed to The Industrial Worker, official organ of the IWW. Debs hammered the “dark and devilish conspiracy, this foul and damnable plot, hatched out in the festering brains of the mine owners and eagerly and sympathetically entered into and carried into execution by their political hirelings, the governors of Colorado and Idaho.” He wrote:

The secret arrest of President Charles H. Moyer and Secretary William D. Haywood, of the Western Federation of Miners, and the secret extradition from their homes in Denver by means of a special train to Boise City, Idaho, and their incarceration there upon the alleged charge of complicity in the assassination of Governor Steunenberg, of Idaho, is the latest of a long series of outrages perpetrated upon these leaders by the western mine owners and their Standard Oil allies in their desperate determination to crush out the Western Federation of Miners, the only thing that stands in the way of their absolute and despotic sway in the mountain states….

The rigid integrity, unfaltering loyalty, intrepid courage, and unceasing vigilance of the leaders of the Western Federation baffled every attempt they made to corrupt and crush organized labor. For once they were dealing with men whose honor was absolutely proof to the jingle of gold….

That is why this whole infamous outrage was concocted and perpetrated in secret instead of the requisitions being issued and the arrests and extraditions made in the usual way and under the forms of law.

Having made this analysis of the motive for the arrests and deportations, Debs continued with a prescription for action:

And now that we understand the program of the plutocrats, what are we going to do about it? Fold our hands supinely and see our comrades murdered to glut the vengeance of our enemies for having been true to us? Are we, the workingmen of the land, whom they have so loyally and fearlessly served at such a terrible price to themselves to desert them in the hour of their direct need? No! By the gods we will have the manhood to stand by them, and if they hand these innocent victims, these incorruptible men, we will make them hang or shoot us also, for it is infinitely better to die like men than to live in the damning disgrace of our own craven cowardice. *   *   *

Appeal to the courts, does someone suggest? What courts? The courts that belong to the criminals that are murdering us?  *  *  *

The cooked-up testimony of sneaks and assassins in the service of capital shall not hang the honest men in the service of labor. Upon this issue all the organized workers of the land will unite and a million others will join with them. From Massachusetts and New York to California and Washington, and from Minnesota to the gulf the working class will arise and their tramp will be heard in the land, and the plutocracy, by God, would better think twice before they attempt to carry their murderous program into execution. (fn. Debs, “Diabolical Plot of Capitalists,” Industrial Worker, vol. 1, no. 3 (March 1906), pp. 1-2.)

This message to IWW members — publication of which was delayed owing to the monthly frequency of the union’s paper — was followed by a piece written in Boone, Iowa on February 26 for the IWW-friendly weekly published by Socialist Party radical Hermon Titus in Toledo, Ohio.

Under the incendiary headline “Prepare for Action!” Debs attested his personal acquaintance with the accused and the falsity of the charges against them and railed against the machine, clearly threatening extralegal repercussions should the judicial assassination of Haywood and Moyer be achieved:

The issue is clear. There can be no mistake about it.

The labor leaders that cannot be bribed or bullied must be ambushed and murdered. That is the situation in a nutshell. How shall we meet it? In just one way: We have got to fight.

Another Haymarket attempt will precipitate a revolution.

If murder must be committed it is not the working class alone that will furnish the victims this time. *  *  *

If they strike the first violent blow we will strike the last. (fn. Debs, “Prepare for Action!” The Socialist, vol. 6, whole no. 284 (March 3, 1906), p. 1.)

This was followed by a third blast — the one best remembered to history due to its inclusion in the 1908 collection of Debs writings — “Arouse, Ye Slaves!” This was published broadcast as part of a special “Kidnapping Edition” of the mass circulation Appeal to Reason on March 10.

In it Debs hearkened back to the Haymarket affair of 1886 and stormed:

Charles Moyer and William D. Haywood, of the Western Federation of Miners, and their official colleagues — men, all of them, and every inch of them — are charged with the assassination of ex-Governor Frank Steunenberg, of Idaho, who simply reaped what he had sown, as a mere subterfuge to pounce upon them in secret, rush them out of the state by special train, under heavy guard, clap them into the penitentiary, convict them upon the purchased perjured testimony of villains, and strangle them to death with the hangman’s noose.

It is a foul plot; a damnable conspiracy; a hellish outrage. *  *  *

I will stake my life on their honor and integrity; and that is precisely the crime for which, according to the words of the slimy “sleuth” who “worked up the case” against them, “they shall never leave Idaho alive.”

Well, by the gods, if they don’t, the governors of Idaho and Colorado and their masters from Wall Street, New York, to the Rocky Mountains had better prepare to follow them.

Nearly twenty years ago the capitalist tyrants put some innocent men to death for standing up for labor.

They are now going to try it again. Let them dare! *  *  *

They have driven us to the wall and now let us rally our forces and face them and fight.

If they attempt to murder Moyer, Haywood, and their brothers, a million revolutionists, at least, will meet them with guns. *  *  *

If the plutocrats begin the program, we will end it. (fn. Debs, “Arouse, Ye Slaves!” Appeal to Reason, whole no. 536 (March 10, 1906), p. 1.)

Bold words backed by nothing but sentiment? Hyperbole, ultra-revolutionary posturing? Perhaps. The fact remains, however, that organized labor and public sentiment rapidly began to move on the matter.

Victor Berger, mocked the intimation that Debs would lead a charge of the light brigade of virtually unarmed workers into the maw of death. He dusted off an old meme to attribute why his temperamental friend had flown off the handle, speculating that “too much cucumbers” [booze] might be the reason for Debs’s blistering expressions of rage. (fn. Social Democratic Herald editorial, quoted in “Victor Berger Gives Labor Timely Advice,” The Labor World [Duluth], May 5, 1906, p. 1.)

Berger was nothing if not a pragmatist and the correlation of forces was obvious to all.

The trial was postponed until December — because of the elections, Debs said — and then postponed again to the middle of 1907.

With Haywood and Moyer preoccupied, the Industrial Workers of the World were left rudderless. Factional shenanigans filled the void.

•          •          •          •          •

The IWW Split of 1906

From the time of the founding convention to the start of the second convention on Sept. 17, 1906, the IWW organized a total of 384 local unions in the United States and Canada. In addition to full transference of the ST&LA apparatus, the union was able to make headway in textile centers such as Paterson, Lawrence, Providence, and New Bedford. (Foner 4:70)

iww-logo-smEstimates of membership at the time of the second convention varied, with Sec. Trautmann optimistically pegging the total at 60,000 — including 27,000 members of the Western Federation of Miners. Trautmann’s successor, Vincent St. John, declared the average monthly dues-paying membership during the first year of organization was actually 14,000. (Foner 4:70)

Foner concludes: 1. That the IWW drew its initial membership mainly from unions previously affiliated to the AF of L; 2. The majority of these members soon departed the IWW as collateral damage of the factional war that followed, with many of the locals terminating; 3. Socialist unions such as the Brewers and the Machinists, which initially expressed a positive attitude to the IWW, ultimately did not affiliate with the upstart union. (Foner 4:70)

President Sherman traveled widely and racked up massive expenses, quickly running through $7,000 in travel costs and road expenses in addition to his salary of $150/month. (Foner 4:71) Sherman was also a partner in Fraternal Supply Company, which advertised in the Industrial Worker and sold badges and other promotion material to local unions, thereby representing a conflict of interest. (Foner 4:73)


After the split the Sherman-Hannemann faction retained the backstock of the three pamphlets produced from November 1905 Debs speeches. After almost monthly contributions in 1906, Debs never wrote again for their newspaper, however.

The 2nd convention was originally scheduled for May but was twice postponed, first to June 27 to allow the WF of M to hold its convention beforehand, then to Sep. 17. With Haywood and Moyer in jail a faction consisting of Trautmann, De Leon, and St. John formed to challenge President Sherman, accusing him of exceeding his authority by appointing a credentials committee rather than letting it be chosen from the assembled delegates. (Foner 4:74)

A proposal was made to abolish the office of president, which was carried; at this point DDL declared that since the post was eliminated, the convention should elect a chair. Vincent St. John was chosen. (Foner 4:74-75)

A split ensued with two parallel IWW organizations maintaining headquarters facilities and ultimately publishing official organs. The minority Sherman faction, with William Hannemann doing double-duty as secretary-treasurer and editor, retained the back-stock of Debs pamphlets (Class Unionism, Craft Unionism, Revolutionary Unionism), the monthly small format newspaper Industrial Worker published in Joliet, and the old headquarters office located at 148 W Madison Street in Chicago.

The Trautman-DeLeon faction, joined by former party editor A.S. Edwards, established a new headquarters at 310 Bush Temple, also in Chicago. In March they launched their own weekly newspaper, The Industrial Union Bulletin, which is available as freely downloadble digital files through Marxists Internet Archive if you click that link.

In addition to the enormous waste and expense implicit in maintaining double paid staffs, double office spaces, and double publications, the IWW additionally burned through money through the courts, with the Trautmann-DeLeon faction suing the Sherman-Hannemann faction to seek return of the name and property of the organization.

I’m not quite sure how that suit ultimately turned out — I think the Trautmann-DeLeon insurgents lost — but the Sherman group was damaged beyond repair and soon went out of business, while the Trautmann  faction managed to hang on by the skin of their teeth.

It was a minor miracle that the IWW did not die forever in 1907.

•          •          •          •          •


Big Bill Haywood testifies in his own defense, July 11, 1907.

The Haywood Trial

The trial of Big Bill Haywood opened at the Ada County Courthouse in Boise on May 7, 1907. Haywood was seen as the most culpable of the three leaders and was brought to trial first, with the trials of Moyer and Pettibone to follow. The trial lasted for just over two months. Prosecution was led by James H. Hawley, with William E. Borah his associate; the defense team was headed by Clarence Darrow.

A Pinkerton spy was on the defense team and provided a list of jurors preferred by the defense so that the prosecution could easily target and eliminate them through the challenge process. (Foner 4:56)

Orchard was on the stand six days and described his killing of 19 people, including Steunenberg, on the orders of Haywood and other WF of M leaders. No witnesses could be produced to corroborate Orchard’s fantastic story.

Darrow delivered a long and passionate final plea that lasted two days, concluding late in the evening of July 27. The jury went into deliberation the next morning and after 20 hours delivered a Not Guilty verdict. (Foner 4:59)

Pettibone was later brought to trial but he was also acquitted in Jan. 1908. Moyer was never tried. The actual murderer and perjurer Orchard was sentenced to death by hanging but by way of thanks for his service to the state, his sentence was commuted to life in prison. He died behind bars in 1954, aged 88. (Foner 4:59)



The official deadline for Eugene V. Debs Selected Works: Volume 4 is October 15, 2019. I’m setting a soft deadline of August 1 to finish the document compilation phase of the project. This means there are now 17 more Saturdays after today to get the core content section of the book assembled, with a limit for publication of approximately 260,000 words.

  • “I Instinctively Want to Pull the Bell Rope: Interview with the Indianapolis Morning Star” (Jan. 21, 1906) — 418 words
  • “Prepare for Action!” (February 26, 1906) — 492 words
  • “In Full Swing: Excerpt from a Speech in Waterloo, Iowa” (February 27, 1906) — 403 words
  • “You Have One Prerogative — To Think: Speech in Davenport, Iowa” [excerpt] (March 2, 1906) — 1,830 words
  • “Moses Harman’s Mission” (May 10, 1906) — 750 words
  • “Political Action” (June 30, 1906) — 1,217 words
  • “Collapse of the Conspiracy” (July 7, 1906) — 1,390 words
  • “The Congressional Campaign” (July 7, 1906) — 735 words
  • “Man and Mule” (Aug. 4, 1906) — 776 words
  • “Strike for Your Life!” (Aug. 16, 1906) — 596 words
  • “Roosevelt and His Regime” (April 20, 1907) — 2,268 words
  • “Industrial Unionism Defined” (Nov. 2, 1907) — 1,253 words

Word count: 106,095 in the can + 12,138 this week +/- amendments = 118,223 words total.


David Walters will be running all of this material up on Marxists Internet Archive in coming days.

To find it, please visit the Eugene V. Debs Internet Archive



Here’s the microfilm that I’ve scanned this week, available for free download. Bear in mind that there is generally a short delay between completion of the scanning and its appearance on MIA. Thanks are due to David Walters for getting this material into an accessible format.

The Worker — 1907, 1908   ***end of publication***

Voice of Labor — 1905 (Feb. – June)   ***end of publication***


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Impressions of the Founding Convention of the IWW (19-07)


Before we get to the 1906 attempt to decapitate the leadership of the Western Federation of Miners (and thus the Industrial Workers of the World), I need to roll back the clock to the founding convention of the organization in the summer of 1905. I have in mind examining not only the gathering itself, but the roles played at the event by Eugene V. Debs as well as his erstwhile nemesis, Daniel DeLeon.

The emergence, growth, and transformation of the IWW is one of the main stories in the history of the Socialist Party during the Debsian era. Debs was extremely close to the organizers of the new industrial union and his speeches were taken down verbatim and reproduced as three of the very first pamphlets issued by the organization. He would be a wall of granite in the defense of the kidnapped IWW leaders in 1906. Yet within a relatively few months, he was no longer actively cheerleading for the organization, having moved on from it just as he had moved on from the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, the Supreme Council, the American Railway Union, and the Social Democracy of America before.

There is a story to be told, I am sure, but first there is a mystery to be solved.

•          •          •          •          •

Western Federation of Miners Dominated Convention

The Industrial Workers of the World were established at what was originally billed as an “Industrial Union Congress,” called for June 27, 1905, in Chicago by the manifesto emerging from the secret January conference, a document to which Gene Debs affixed his signature. (See: Near It But Not In It: Gene Debs and Early Preparation for the IWW, Debs blog 19-03).

Those present at this earlier meeting, it will be recalled, included two chiefs of the Western Federation of Miners, Charles H. Moyer and William D. “Big Bill” Haywood; J.M. O’Neill of Miners’ Magazine; A.M. Simons of International Socialist Review; Thomas J. Hagerty of the Industrial Workers’ Club of Chicago, probably a small debating circle; Charles O. Sherman of the United Metal Workers; independent labor organizer Mary “Mother” Jones; and — acting on his own authority rather than as an official representative — Frank Bohn, national organizer for the Socialist Labor Party and the Socialist Trade & Labor Alliance. But not Gene Debs.


There were a total of 203 delegates in attendance at the Founding Convention, but these did not participate on the basis of strict equality. In accord with the convention call, delegates entering the gathering as representatives of unions who agreed to empower their delegates to officially cast their lot with the new organization would be accorded one vote for each paid member of their union. Those wishing to participate without such prior agreement — observers who would report back to their unions or individuals like Debs who were part of no such mass organization — would be allowed only one vote.

Those agreeing to grant power to install in the new industrial union were:

  • Western Federation of Miners — 27,000 members — 5 delegates
  • American Labor Union — 16,750 members — 10 delegates
  • United Metal Workers — 3,000 members — 2 delegates
  • United Brotherhood of Railway Employees — 2,087 members — 19 delegates
  • Socialist Trade & Labor Alliance (SLP) — 1,450 members — 14 delegates

This list is well enough known. It should also be observed that in addition there were a number of smaller organizations agreeing to affiliate:

  • Journeymen Tailors’ Union, San Francisco — 400 members — 1 delegate
  • Longshoremen’s Union, Hoboken — 201 members — 1 delegate
  • Punch Press Operators Local 224, Schenectady, NY — 168 members — 1 delegate
  • Paper Hangers’ Local 584, Chicago — 87 members — 3 delegates
  • Industrial Workers’ Club of Cincinnati — 78 members — 1 delegate
  • Industrial Workers’ Club of Chicago — 54 members — 12 delegates
  • Debattir Club of Chicago — 47 members — 1 delegate
  • United Mine Workers, Pittsburg, KS — 30 members — 1 delegate
  • Workers’ Industrial and Educational Union, Pueblo, CO — 30 members — 1 delegate
  • United Mine Workers’ Local 1771, Red Lodge, MT — 27 members — 1 delegate
  • Journeymen Tailors’ Local 102, Pueblo, CO — 10 members — 1 delegate

In other words 74 of the delegates were awarded multiple votes, totaling 51,419. The other 129 delegates in attendance were awarded one vote each — 129.

Note that this breakdown differs somewhat to a shorter and more simple set published in 1913 by pioneer historian of the IWW Paul Brissenden and thereafter repeated endlessly by other historians of the event. (fn. Stenographic Report, Appendix, pp. 595-616. See also: Brissenden, The Launching of the Industrial Workers of the World, pp. 14-15.)

The conclusion generated by this revised set of delegate numbers and voting strength and that of Brissenden et al. remains the same, however. A tiny segment of the delegates, just 15 by my count — hailing from the Western Federation of Miners and the American Labor Union, which it thoroughly dominated — controlled an overwhelming majority of votes on the convention floor.

The handful of WFM and WFMish delegates had the ability to decide every question at the convention by simply voting en bloc. And the Western Federation did vote en bloc.

Further illustrating the Western Federation of Miners’ complete dominance, two of those casting votes ostensibly on behalf of the American Labor Union were Charles Moyer and William D. “Big Bill” Haywood, President and Secretary-Treasurer of the WFM, respectively. (fn. Stenographic Report, Appendix, op cit.)

The expression “interlocking directorates” comes to mind.

•          •          •          •          •

A Middle Class Affair


Former silver miner William D. Haywood (1869-1928) was the chair of the founding convention of the IWW. He was 35 years old at the time, slightly older than this picture.

Another first impression of the founding convention of the IWW:  it was very self-aware. The delegates conducted a lengthy debate over whether to take a stenographic report of the session and who was to foot the bill for said transcription. A special assessment totaling the equivalent of approximately two day’s wages was laid upon all delegates in attendance who were on the payroll of their union.

There was already a stenographer in the room ready to work, mind you. The Socialist Labor Party’s daily newspaper, The Daily People, was responsible and would have footed the bill had not the delegates contributed and taxed themselves to pay the stenographer and the not inconsiderable printing costs.

However: important conventions published stenographic reports of their proceedings. This important convention saw itself as an important convention and went to great pains to do exactly this.

Moreover, for all the rugged-industrialist-working-class-burliness associated with the IWW in popular memory, there was a very middle class feel to the functioning of this founding conclave. Things ran strictly according to Roberts’ Rules of Order — with motions and seconds and amendments and ending debate and putting of questions. These were not roughnecks raisin’ hell and burning torches, they were educated individuals running a proper meeting according to Hoyle.

Union functionaries, even those of very radical unions, were well enough paid. The nature of the tasks of editing a magazine and mining precious metals or coal or firing a locomotive were entirely different. It was a white collar crowd.

Spoiler alert: All successful radical movements and all unsuccessful radical movements have middle class people at their core. There is no shame in that. But neither should one pretend that things are otherwise.

•          •          •          •          •

The Personalities in Action

Bill Haywood was the chairman of the convention. He was the main decision-maker, the boss, the guy. He’s a really interesting personality and needs a true biographer to tell his story. He ended up jumping bail and escaping to Soviet Russia, where he directed the organization an American-financed collective farm in the Donets Basin of the Ukraine. His papers exist on published microfilm, the originals residing in Moscow.


Daniel DeLeon stayed for the full duration of the founding convention of the IWW and participated actively in its proceedings. Gene Debs did not.

Daniel DeLeon, coming to the floor of the convention after Debs to give a long and dramatic speech, called Debs “Brother” and not “Comrade.” There’s a big difference between a trade union ally and a party ally and I’m sure it was perfectly acceptable, polite, and reasonable to use that title in what was a trade union conclave. Despite the mutual attempt to reduce political dispute to self-effacing joke, there remained significant tension between DDL and his Socialist Labor Party and Gene Debs and his Socialist Party.

DeLeon and Debs approached the convention in an entirely different manner from each other. DeLeon stayed, delivered a major speech, participated actively from the floor in the work of shaping the organization. Debs made a keynote speech and darted off — places to go and things to do. He would make 9 more speeches under the organization’s auspices in the year, wrote a spate of articles on its behalf, and seems to have participated with his brother Theodore on the resolutions committee of “Terre Haute Local Union No. 9,” — but he basically was a publicist. DeLeon, for better or worse, stuck around in Chicago at the convention and got his hands dirty building a new organization.


IWW funeral ribbon from the collection of digital archivist D.J. Alperovitz

The index to the stenogram tells the story: there were exactly two delegates with more indexed comments from the floor than Daniel DeLeon, plus Bill Haywood in the chair makes three.

Now we know that both Debs and DeLeon made lengthy speeches to the founding convention, as they were published as a pamphlet by the Socialist Labor Party shortly thereafter (with the Debs portion remaining in print with that rival organization even after EVD was returned to the enemies list). What is less known, although unsurprising if one thinks about it, is that others also delivered substantive addresses.

William E. Trautmann, formerly of the bilingual Brauer Zeitung of St. Louis and subsequently secretary of the IWW, delivered a lengthy “Indictment Against the American Federation of Labor,” in which he charged that organization had been “debauched and corrupted by the labor leaders.” Duncan McEachren, a journeyman paperhanger, had his allotted 10 minutes extended and spoke against trade autonomy.

Thomas Hagerty gave short remarks denigrating political parties as “never more than a shadow” to the trade union movement. Bill Haywood reviewed the history of the WFM and declared “the capitalist class of this country fear the Western Federation of Mines more than they do all he rest of the labor organizations in this country.” And Lucy Parsons gave a powerful and poetic speech revisiting the revolutionary socialist movement of the 1880s and putting it into a modern context. These were not all.

There was a place for oratory. Debs and DeLeon were only part of it.

•          •          •          •          •

Debs Doth Protesteth Too Much

There was a lengthy symposium on the relationship between the Socialist Party and the trade union movement (i.e., AF of L or IWW?) in the pages of the New York Worker during 1906 — a running discussion and debate to which Debs contributed the 11th installment. I was running the microfilm scanner through this material this past week and didn’t have a chance to read the material outside of EVD’s piece but it strikes me as of fairly great importance for figuring out the battle lines in the party debate. I will be returning to it during my research phase for the introduction this summer…


The Worker was the same publication as the dissident version of The People following a simple name change. They didn’t care much for the leadership or tactics of the SLP.

Remember that The Worker was formerly known as The People — the dissident paper established in 1899 in opposition to Daniel DeLeon’s weekly newspaper of the same name. It was the official organ of a party that was founded in large measure over disagreement on this very trade union question, with the split group feeling a deep dissatisfaction with the the DeLeon-Kuhn-Vogt leadership and its strategy of pushing an upstart Socialist Trade & Labor Alliance in “dual union” opposition to the AF of L.

Now here was Debs  cheerleading in their publication for exactly the same policy in the form of the IWW, a group which included in its ranks — most gallingly to the former SLP dissidents — Daniel DeLeon and the entire ST&LA organization… It makes for a very interesting historical moment.

Victor Berger was having none of it, you will recall. He and Fred Heath, old Chicago SDP comrades of Debs, actually broke with him over it.† The reaction does not seem to have been as severe in New York, with Debs actually writing a regular (albeit vapid) political affairs column called “Proletarian Pointers” in the pages of The Worker during his big IWW year of 1906.‡

A big criticism, and one that Debs was adamant about refuting, was that the IWW was an anti-political organization — that it would not deign to participate in party politics and in fact rejected political action altogether. The critique proved to be prescient, as Debs was soon to learn. But here is Debs’s response to the critics as of July 1906:

It has been claimed that the IWW does not favor political action. To silence controversy upon this point all that is required is the reading of its preamble. What a few individual members may think of the ballot is beside the point, the fact being, not only that the organization declares in favor of political action, but that a vast majority of its members are socialists, if not party members.

For obvious reasons the organization had to declare against affiliation with any particular party. To have done otherwise would have entirely defeated the movement at its inception. When once there is but one working class party the IWW will, without a doubt, assume the proper attitude toward it, but in the meantime it is not only vain and silly, but untrue that the Socialist Labor Party is “dead,” and the writer who makes that assertion does himself no credit by it.(fn. Debs, “The Socialist Party and the Trade Unions,” The Worker, vol. 16, no. 17 (July 28, 1906), p. 5.)

Debs’s observation of the need for “but one working class party” and insistence in defending the Socialist Labor Party as a living organization is interesting, seeming to place him firmly in the camp of the left wing Socialist Party of New Jersey that was attempting to broker unity between the SPA and the SLP.

The parallel Socialist Party and Socialist Labor Party organizations were one problem to be addressed, but there was an even bigger storm brewing.

For all his protestation that no meaningful difference on the question of political action vs. syndicalism existed, it was exactly this issue that would loom large over the next ten years.

In the middle of 1906, with the first year of the IWW in the books, Gene Debs was completely oblivious to the great disagreement that was to come.


† -There are exactly zero letters from Debs to Victor Berger preserved in the Berger papers after their face-to-face meeting on the question in Racine on April 29, 1905 for the rest of the decade.

‡ – For the record, these columns ran in The Worker in issues of  January 27, February 3, February 26, March 17, July 28, and August 4. None will make the cut for Debs Volume 4.



The official deadline for Eugene V. Debs Selected Works: Volume 4 is October 15, 2019. I’m setting a soft deadline of August 1 to finish the document compilation phase of the project. This means there are now 18 more Saturdays after today to get the core content section of the book assembled, with a limit for publication of approximately 260,000 words.


Here’s a Debs Personality Cult product that I hadn’t heard of — 1906 sheet music for “The Hero of Woodstock Jail,” a “swinging tune suitable for solo or singing en masse.” That’d be a $200+ piece of gear if a specimen turned up and it had any kind of Debs image as a cover illustration…

I spent time this week chasing what I thought was a very significant error in the Socialist Party’s membership bookkeeping for 1911. I did a nice bonus blog post on the topic. Then at the last minute I figured out it that the entire exercise was based on my misunderstanding a set of membership numbers; it was I that had made a mistake and the SPA made no systemic error with their 1911 state membership counts after all… Down came the post. Whoops.


There’s nothing like wasted time to spur activity and I wound up really kicking out the jams in the content assembly department:

  • “Is Man Immortal? Contribution to a Symposium” (Jan. 13, 1905) — 391 words
  • “I Can Imagine Nothing To Change My Mind: Letter to Victor L. Berger” (April 13, 1905) — 1,409 words
  • “A Few Words, Mr. President: An Open Letter to Theodore Roosevelt” (April 15, 1905) — 1,672 words
  • “Revolt Against the AF of L is Bound to Come: Letter to Frederic Heath” (April 22, 1905) — 914 words
  • “Splits Are Not Always Bad: Letter to Frederic Heath” (April 26, 1905) — 977 words
  • “Industrial Revolutionists” (January 1906) — 1,002 words
  • “Socialist Papers and the Labor Unions: Letter to the Chicago Socialist” (Jan. 18, 1906) — 530 words
  • “Evolution of the Anthracite Miner” (Feb. 1906) — 850 words
  • “Arrest of Moyer and Haywood a Diabolical Plot” (Feb. 22, 1906) — 1,641 words
  • “Labor’s Awakening” (April 7, 1906) — 2,150 words
  • “To the Rescue!” (April 28, 1906) — 1,793 words
  • “Resolution for Postponement of the IWW National Convention, by Terre Haute Local Union No. 9” (Late April, 1906) — 209 words
  • “Where Daisy Sleeps” [poem] (May 1906) — 182 words
  • “The Socialist Party and the Trade Unions” (July 28, 1906) — 2,895 words
  • “What a Million Votes For the Socialist Party Will Mean” (Sept. 1908) — 3,086 words

Word count: 84,848 in the can + 19,701 this week +/- amendments = 106,095 words total.


David Walters will be running all of this material up on Marxists Internet Archive in coming days.

To find it, please visit the Eugene V. Debs Internet Archive



Here’s the microfilm that I’ve scanned this week, available for free download. Bear in mind that there is generally a short delay between completion of the scanning and its appearance on MIA. Thanks are due to David Walters for getting this material into an accessible format.

 Social Democratic Herald — 1906 (July – Dec.)

The Worker — 1906 (April – Dec.)



Who says that there is no new ground to be plowed in the field of Eugene V. Debs biography?

BuhleVeteran historian Paul Buhle, author of Marxism in the USA, and co-editor of The Immigrant Left in the United States [1996] and Encyclopedia of the American Left [1990, 1998], is back with another new volume for every library — this a follow up to his Wobblies! A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World [2005].

Our subject this time around is none other than the Earnest Red Hoosier, Gene Debs. In an episode of inexplicable synchronicity, this slim volume and the first of my six titanic gobs of gunk and goodness, EVD Selected Works Volume 1, released on the same precise day — February 19, 2019 — with neither Buhle nor myself aware of the other’s project until a few weeks ahead of our scheduled drop dates. One simply could not have scripted such a joint venture better, with both Verso and Haymarket no doubt enormously pleased with this fortuitous turn of the cards.

Unlike my Debs doorstop(s), this one should actually sell. Produced with funding from the Democratic Socialists of America Fund and contributions from viewers like you, this paperback is carefully crafted for a specific target audience — the 50,000 members of DSA and the millions of donors and supporters of Bernie Sanders (whose words in praise of Debs, not accidentally, appear on the front cover). It is getting the big push in that universe.

Some small percentage of these readers will move on to wanting to learn more about Debs the man and what he actually wrote and believed — which is sort of my department. The two projects are thus perfect complements.

Now for the compliments.

Art here is by Noah Van Sciver, an award-winning cartoonist who has drawn seven graphic novels and contributed to such comics as SpongeBob Comics, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and MAD Magazine. The artistic work is therefore, unsurprisingly, highly capable. Indeed, one does wish for more art and fewer words — this project being a somewhat disjointed hybrid between a thumbnail sketch biography and a graphic novelization of the Debs story. Going “all in” with the art would have doubled the size and tripled the cost, no doubt, but would also have made for a less “bookish” and more “comicsy” reading experience, which is what a graphic novel should be about.

The historically-accurate script (and short biography) is by Buhle and Students for Democratic Society founding member Steve Max, with an assist from experienced graphic novel scriptwriter Dave Nance. It is — short and historically accurate. (One is tempted to use the phrase “cartoonishly short,” but that is rather the point, is it not?)

The book opens with a three page “easy reader” style illustrated timeline, which only illuminates a few of the most major events of the EVD saga with lots of airy spacing that I see as a fashion DO and an information DON’T. The Debs legacy is rightfully tied to the current DSA in the short introduction, with five very short written chapters following: (1) The Rise of Eugene V. Debs; (2) “Debsian Socialism”; (3) Triumph — and the Edge of Tragedy; (4) Martyr Debs; and (5) The Debs Legacy: Norman Thomas, Michael Harrington, Bernie Sanders.

This covers the bases for the target audience, I suppose — but if a picture is worth 1,000 words, this reader would rather have seen the functional equivalent of the roughly 7,500 words of text in pictorial form. One is simply not allowed to become engrossed in either experience — the written word or the illustrated story — to the detriment of the whole.

My own belief — which I am completely sure is rejected by Comrades Buhle and Max — is that a second misstep was made with the inordinate preoccupation to connect the Debs story (pp. 1-95, 128; 75%) with today’s socialist movement (pp. 96-127; 25%). The book is supposed to be about Gene Debs, dammit — tell that whole story, don’t get sidetracked trying to gloss the history of the 20th Century… People can figure that out on their own. Grrrrrrrrr.

Meh, done’s done.

The authors knew what they were trying to do and I reckon they got to where they were trying to get. May they sell many, many copies to DSA kids who become hungry to learn more.

Eugene V. Debs: A Graphic Biography. Art by Noah Van Sciver. Script by Paul Buhle and Steve Max, with Dave Nance. New York: Verso, 2019. (132+6 pp. — $19.95)

Publisher Sales Link.


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Debs and Berger Part Ways (19-06)


Victor Luitpold Berger (1860-1929) was one of the most important figures in the history of the Socialist Party of America — and one of the least appreciated. A college-educated Austrian Jew, Berger emigrated to the United States with his family in 1878, leaving university without having completed his studies and earned a degree.


Victor Berger as he appeared shortly after the time he arrived in America.

The Berger family made their home in Bridgeport, Connecticut, but eldest son Victor made his way westward, winding up in 1881 in the German-American metropolis of Milwaukee, Wisconsin — a city which in 1900 could say that 150,000 of its 285,000 residents were either German-born or the first generation American-born children of German immigrants.

There Berger became a German teacher in the city’s public school system. He would marry a former pupil, Meta Schlichting, in 1897; the couple’s two daughters would be raised speaking German as their first language in the home. (fn. Sally M. Miller, Victor L. Berger and the Promise of Constructive Socialism, 1910-1920. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1973; pp. 17-18.)

Berger’s biographer, the outstanding historian of American radicalism Sally M. Miller, described him thus:

In appearance Berger was short and stocky, and in expression studious and somber. His mustache and steel-rimmed glasses enhanced the impression of a Viennese academic… He had a sense of humor with a gift of poking fun at himself, his accent, and his peculiar constituency…. He also had a temper which might flare easily in an argument, and at times cost him support. With his associates he was congenial, loyal, and forthright…. He was a very human mixture of bombast, affability, confidence, and generosity.

His dominant characteristic was ambition. Energy, drive, and aggressiveness were the offshoots of this quality, and even friendly commentators considered Berger capable of ruthlessness. (fn. Miller, Victor L. Berger, pp. 22-23.)

Socialist Party leader Morris Hillquit was a frequent political antagonist to Berger from the late 1890s before eventually becoming a close associate late in life. In his posthumous memoir, written after Berger’s death, Hillquit recalled:

Berger-Victor-98Victor Berger had none of the ecstatic fervor and ardent idealism, nor the sentimental nature and expansive manner of Eugene Debs. He came from different soil and stock and was of different temperament and makeup. *  *  *

He was not an orator and disdained eloquence in speech and writing, but he had a thorough mastery of the socialist theory and an abundant fund of knowledge in the spheres of social science and history. He had strong convictions on every subject and a rare gift of clear and simple exposition. In party councils he was inclined to be self-assertive and domineering and utterly intolerant of dissenting views.

He was sublimely egotistic, but somehow his egotism did not smack of conceit and was not offensive. It was the expression of deep and naive faith in himself, and this unshakable faith was one of the mainsprings of his power over men.

Berger and I clashed often and violently on questions of Socialist policy, and in these clashes we rarely spared each other’s feelings; but we were always friends, and the bond of friendship between us tightened with advancing years. (fn. Morris Hillquit, Loose Leaves from a Busy Life. New York: Macmillan, 1934; pp. 52-53.)

•          •          •          •          •

Berger the Publisher

Berger’s basis of power was that of newspaper publisher, first and foremost in the German language. The first Berger newspaper was Vorwärts (Forward), launched in 1887. This paper went to a daily frequency in 1893, with the name changed slightly to Wisconsin Vorwärts, serving as the official organ of the Federated Trades Council of Milwaukee — part of the American Federation of Labor.

The expanded Sunday edition continued to be known simply as Vorwärts, and this would ultimately survive and supersede the daily edition after its termination in August 1898 for financial reasons. The weekly Vorwärts would in fact outlive even its publisher, continuing even after Berger’s accidental death when he was hit by a streetcar in 1929. The paper would finally shut down on December 31, 1932.

wahrheit-adThe Wisconsin Vorwärts also had a “weekly edition” containing the best content of the daily edition for readers who wanted to keep abreast of the labor and social democratic movement but who chose to subscribe to another German-language paper for their daily news. This was Die Wahrheit (The Truth), launched in January 1898, and serving as a German-language official organ of the Social Democratic Party of America after its formation in June of that year. (fn. Anne Spier, “German Speaking Peoples” in Dirk Hoerder (ed.), The Immigrant Labor Press in North America, 1840s-1970s: Volume 3, Migrants from Southern and Western Europe. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1987; pp. 496-497, 499-501.)

This also continued after the suspension of the daily Wisconsin Vorwärts from whence it sprung in 1898. Although content of the Vorwärts and Die Wahrheit is said to have differed little, (fn. Spier, op. cit., p. 497) in practice there seems to have been a party orientation for Die Wahrheit and an trade union orientation for the Vorwärts.

In June 1910, Die Wahrheit suspended publication, leaving the Vorwärts as the sole German language newspaper in the Berger stable. The key editor of Berger’s German papers, it should be mentioned before we move along, was Jacob Hunger.


First editor of Berger’s Social Democratic Herald was A.S. Edwards, who, somewhat surprisingly, would later become the editor of the official organ of the IWW for a time.

Berger moved into English language socialist publishing in 1901 when he acquired the failing official organ of the Chicago Social Democratic Party, the Social Democratic Herald, moving the paper from Chicago to Milwaukee and bringing along its editor, Alfred Shenstone Edwards.

Even specialist librarians are confused about the date of this switch, with substantial misinformation existing about a lengthy phantom suspension in the summer of 1901. For the record, the paper continued in Chicago through July 27, issue whole no. 160, and picked up again in Milwaukee on August 17, confusingly misnumbered as whole no. 159. Thus there was a two-week lapse for change of ownership and the move of facilities.

With Berger’s right hand man, Frederic Heath, soon appointed the paper’s editor in place of the departing Edwards, the Social Democratic Herald would continue its weekly publication schedule until termination in September 1913.

By this time the Social Democratic Herald had been succeeded by the best known of Berger’s newspapers, the Milwaukee Leader, launched in December 1911. The Leader was fourth socialist daily in America, following the Daily People (SLP, NYC, 1901), the Chicago Daily Socialist (1906), and the New York Call (1908).

The Leader lasted longer than any of these, surviving perhaps due to its more general newspaper orientation and feel (with socialist content tacked on) rather than standing as a transparent socialist propaganda weapon. It featured coverage of theater, fashion, sports, and so forth in the manner of any daily newspaper of the day, with politically charged articles packed up front or on a party page in the back. One needn’t to have been a party member to appreciate its value as a news source — so despite the SPA’s attenuation, the paper survived.

It, too, would ultimately survive wartime suppression from the mails (making use of home delivery), the financial difficulty associated with the decline of the Socialist Party in the early 1920s, and even Berger’s death in 1929, continuing until its sale in April 1938. The paper was then temporarily rebranded as the New Milwaukee Leader, before continuing for a final short-lived run in 1939 and 1940 as the Milwaukee Evening Post.

•          •          •          •          •

Victor Berger on Party-Trade Union Relations and the IWW

Milwaukee socialist publisher Victor L. Berger is frequently caricatured as the essence of unprincipled right wing opportunism in the socialist movement. He’s seen as a toady to the established trade unions of the AF of L (who advertised heavily in his newspapers) and a malignant saboteur of industrial unionism.

Real life was far more complicated. There was strategic thinking and principle behind the practice. Take some time to read this with an open mind. Listen to what he is saying:

Now I for one want Messrs. [Samuel] Gompers and [John] Mitchell to understand that scientific socialists — I means socialists who are students — would not expect very much for socialism even from a reconstituted American Federation of Labor, with more brainy men than either Gompers or Mitchell at the helm.

And for the following reasons:


As was the case with the anti-IWW socialist weekly St. Louis Labor, Victor Berger’s Social Democratic Herald was tightly connected to the established trade union movement of the city in which it was published. Milwaukee labor organizations were important financial supporters of the publication through paid advertising, adding a material incentive to Berger’s native intellectual distaste for the dual unionism and extra-parliamentary tactics of the Industrial Workers of the World.

Trade unions as such recognize the capitalist system. They stand upon the same economic basis as the defenders of capitalism. The trade unions as such are at the present time the greatest conservative force in the country, just as the trusts are the greatest revolutionary force — Mr. Gompers is at liberty to quote this to his millionaire friends in the Civic Federation.

So we have no reason to expect a change of the economic system to come through the trade unions.

Yet it is the duty and the task of the trade unions to bring about certain social reforms, as for instance sick benefits, old age pensions, national accident insurance, protection in the case of being out of work, etc. But for all these things not even a beginning has been made in this country, and Gompers and Mitchell and their satellites oppose them as “socialistic.” And that is where Gompers and Mitchell and the rest of them will come to grief very soon. *   *   *

Here is the Milwaukee idea, which is rapidly gaining ground among socialists all over the country.

We do not want the trade unions to serve the [Socialist] Party, any more than we want our party to be the servant of the trade unions. Both of them are a necessary part of the organized labor movement — they are like the two arms of the same body. One is the political arm, reaching out for the powers of the state; the other is the trade union arm, disciplining and organizing the industries. Each of the two branches of the labor movement has its own sphere of usefulness, yet each of them can help and must help the other without in any way losing its identity or becoming subordinate to the other. In … having the same persons take an active interest in both, the trade union and the political movement — we find the strongest connecting link between the trade union organization and the [Socialist] Party.

This nation, as every other civilized people, is now relieved from deciding whether it will have socialism or not. We shall have it, no matter what we decide on the subject. Any trade union leader who is opposing it will find himself in the ridiculous and dangerous position of a billy goat trying to stop a railroad train coming at full speed. Driven by economic conditions, the capitalists, the workingmen, and even the middle class are unitedly and irrevocably working towards socialism, no matter how some of them may hate and abhor it. We are simply growing into socialism as the world grew into feudalism and capitalism. (fn. Victor L. Berger, “Against the Economic Trend,” SD Herald, Jan. 14, 1905, p. 1.)

Responding to the January industrial union manifesto (signed by Debs at the last minute after already having been written) calling for establishment of a new labor organization at a Chicago convention slated for June 27, Berger had nothing but scorn:

alu-logo.jpgTwo weeks ago a number of leaders of the American Labor Union and their friends held a meeting in Chicago…. The movement thus inaugurated is directed against the American Federation of Labor. The circular…caused quite a sensation in Milwaukee, because the name of Eugene V. Debs was connected with the movement.

The entire capitalist press of Milwaukee and Chicago call this movement a campaign of the Socialists against the American Federation of Labor, having for its object the disruption of that organization…. This movement was not wholly unexpected, as far as I am concerned, and I wish to make the following remarks concerning it.

The Socialist Party, or the Social Democracy, as an organization has nothing whatever to do with this movement, or with the reorganizing of the American Labor Union, which is essentially its object. The resolutions adopted by our national conventions expressly prohibit our party or any of its organizations from any interference in trade union matters. Hence if Eugene V. Debs signed this circular calling for the session in Chicago, he did so upon his own responsibility, just as he helped to bring into the world the American Labor Union solely upon his own impulse… And as is well known, the great majority of our party members at that time did not approve his actions, and they will not follow him now.

afofl-labelThe comrades in Milwaukee, where the [Socialist] Party and the progressive trade unions are in one and the same camp, in the best sense of the word, will certainly not flock to the new banner. Our local unions are an integral part of the great national and international labor unions, and even if they so wished, could not sever their connection with them without injuring their own interests and the interest of the labor movement.

Milwaukee, which Gene himself calls his second home, has always highly esteemed Debs, but as it is “not that I love Caesar less, but that I love Rome more.” The American labor movement would suffer great injury if any appreciable number of progressive trade unions should allow themselves to be misled into joining this movement, and we will not join it.

There is no one who will accuse the Milwaukee comrades, and particularly Victor L. Berger, of having any special love for Gompers, Mitchell, or the rest of the grand old cripples of the AF of L….

For us blindly to begin a fight with the American Federation of Labor at this time would be a crime against the trade unions and a fatal error in the Socialist propaganda. If the AF of L is to die, it must die of its own disease. (fn. Victor L. Berger, “A Timely Warning Against Unwise Action” SD Herald, Jan. 21, 1905, p. 1.)


AF of L President Samuel Gompers as he appeared in 1902.

Together with Max S. Hayes, publisher of the Cleveland Citizen, Berger attempted to continue the work of “boring from within” the American Federation of Labor, attending its November 1905 convention in Pittsburgh as a delegate of the International Typographical Union, sharing a room with future National Secretary of the Socialist Party J. Mahlon Barnes.

The delegates endured a 3-1/2 hour report by AF of L President Samuel Gompers, during which he spent about 15 minutes attacking the IWW and the socialist movement for supporting it. “I cannot do very much at this convention and I really wish it was over,” he admitted in a letter home to his wife Meta. “Barnes and I will try to soldier a few sessions and see Pittsburgh and vicinity.” (fn. VLB to Meta Berger, Nov. 13, 1905, in Michael E. Stevens (ed.), The Family Letters of Victor and Meta Berger, 1894-1929. Madison, WI: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1995; pp. 70-71.)

Whatever the deficiencies of the IWW and its dual unionist strategy, it is clear that by the end of 1905 Berger — who never believed in that mission — had simultaneously lost all faith in transformation of the American Federation of Labor through organization of a socialist caucus within the national organization.

For him, the struggle had devolved to practical, local level politics — and that implied maintaining a status quo relationship with the powerful established national labor organization and its member unions and pushing these activists and institutions to as much progressive political action as they would be capable. The entry of the IWW in the field at a national level was an unwelcome development, an effort doomed to failure and not seriously to be considered.

Debs, on the other hand, remained an enthusiast for the new union in its earliest phase, with a religionist’s passion.

A storm was brewing.

•          •          •          •          •

Debs the Journalist breaks with Berger the Publisher

Berger’s opposition to the IWW brought him to a parting of the ways with Gene Debs, who was a founding member and enthusiast of the new industrial union. There is no surviving correspondence to illuminate this split, so far as I am aware, but a split there was nonetheless.

The placement of Debs’s journalistic output tells the tale.



After the Chicago Social Democratic Party founded by Berger and Debs merged with the rival Springfield organization to establish the Socialist Party of America in the summer of 1901, Debs continued to write for the former official organ of the Chicago SDP — the Social Democratic Herald, even though it had been sold to Victor Berger, moved to Milwaukee, and been made a privately-owned publication at the time of the Unity Convention.

Debs saw the paper as the lineal successor of his beloved Railway Times, which had rebranded as The Social Democrat before being abandoned in the 1898 split of the Social Democracy of America. It was to the Social Democratic Herald that his primary loyalty lay as a socialist writer. After a fitful start in 1901, Berger’s editors — A.S. Edwards, then Frederic Heath — ran Debs material almost weekly, whether original output or reprints from other publications.

Debs was clearly disillusioned in the second half of 1901, writing just five articles and one substantial open letter in the last five months of year, the period after the Unity Convention. Of these, only 2 pieces (33%) were written especially for the Herald. The paper frequently reprinted Debs speeches and articles from previous years, to be sure, but the output of original material by Debs was at the lowest ebb of his entire life.

In 1902 EVD became greatly involved in the first part of the year with strikes of the Colorado hard rock miners and the coal miners of West Virginia and Pennsylvania. This took time. Debs spoke more and wrote less than he would in some subsequent years, but he was reactivated. Despite the time constraints he faced, Debs managed to pen approximately 35 articles for the press in 1902 — of which, by my count, 13 (37%) first appeared in the Herald. There were also a couple letters written directly to the editor of the Herald which were subsequently published not counted in this total.

Debs wrote about 48 articles in 1903, of which, according to my tally, 21 (44%) were written for the Herald as the first publisher of the piece.

Continuing to escalate his pace as a writer, I spot 59 articles from 1904, of which by my reckoning some 22 (37%) were first composed for the Herald.

Then came 1905, the year of the IWW.

Victor Berger was one of three dozen labor leaders and socialist journalists invited to the January organizing meeting for the IWW — he refused to attend, as did his close associate Max Hayes. During the first six months of that year, the period immediately before the new organization was formally launched, Debs wrote approximately 17 articles for the press, of which only 4 (24%) were placed first in the Herald.

After the IWW founding convention, during the last six months of the year, 25 articles were written, with just 4 (16%) of these original to the Herald.

My 1906 raw list of Debs articles hasn’t been worked over enough yet to provide a solid total article count, but I can give you this number: Debs does not seem to have written a single original piece for publication in the Social Democratic Herald in that year. Nor in 1907.

Eugene V. Debs the socialist writer and Victor L. Berger the socialist publisher had made a break.

•          •          •          •          •

Debs’s IWW Speeches of 1905, another redux

iww-logo-smA quick amendment to last week’s blog. My self-imposed Saturday blog deadline bit me in the butt. I’ve subsequently discovered a piece in which Debs directly states that he attended five mass meetings under the auspices of the IWW while he was in New York in December 1905. It turns out that he delivered full speeches at four of these and short remarks at a fifth, sharing the stage with other IWW orators.

Therefore, taken in addition to the three well-known mass meetings at which he spoke in Chicago in November, we find that Debs spoke explicitly under IWW auspices a total of eight times in 1905, not the “four-times-max-six” that I guesstimated in last week’s post.

Here are the New York City-area dates and locations, for what it’s worth:

  • Sunday, Dec. 10, 1905: NEW YORK CITY at Grand Central Palace (Lexington Ave. between 43rd and 44th Streets)
  • Monday, Dec. 11: Main speech — BROOKLYN at Grand Central Hall (corner of Leonard and Scholes Streets); afterwards, short speech in NEW YORK CITY at Grand American Hall (7-9 Second Avenue).
  • Tuesday, Dec. 12: PATERSON, NJ presumably. It’s known he spoke there and this was the open date… No additional information available at this time.
  • Wednesday, Dec. 13: BRONX at Muller’s Bronx Casino (994 Third Ave.)

At all of these he shared the podium with Daniel DeLeon. Charles O. Sherman was at all but the late night speech on the 11th. General starting time was 8 pm and admission was free.

We learn as we go. That’s the way research works.



The official deadline for Eugene V. Debs Selected Works: Volume 4 is October 15, 2019. I’m setting a soft deadline of August 1 to finish the document compilation phase of the project. This means there are now 19 more Saturdays after today to get the core content section of the book assembled, with a limit for publication of approximately 260,000 words.

This week I’m finishing up with 1905 and getting started with 1906. For the record, my database (which fluctuates as new items are discovered or eliminated as duplicates) currently stands at 69 Debs items for 1905, of which 32 have been converted to editable text and 35 have been examined and passed over. There are still 2 remaining to be located, only one of which has any prospect of being further processed.

  • “Amsterdam Congress the Year’s Great Achievement” (Jan. 1, 1905) — 569 words
  • “Political Evolution and the Socialist Mission” (Jan. 14, 1905) — 1,542 words
  • “The Russian Uprising” [expanded version] (Jan. 26, 1905) — 1,237 words
  • “The New Union” (July 22, 1905) — 435 words
  • “The Chautauqua Platform and Its Opportunities” (Aug. 26, 1905) — 878 words
  • “What Socialism Proposes” (Sept. 23, 1905) — 1,230 words
  • “The Coming Labor Union” (Oct. 26, 1905) — 1,455 words
  • “Graft Unionism and the Progressive Alternative: Letter to the Chicago Socialist” (Dec. 23, 1905) — 1,440 words
  • “The 1905 Mayoral Election in New York City” (Jan. 6, 1906) — 2,021 words
  • “Arouse, Ye Slaves!” (March 10, 1906) — 954 words

Word count: 73,687 in the can + 11,761 this week +/- amendments = 84,848 words total.


David Walters will be running all of this material up on Marxists Internet Archive in coming days.

To find it, please visit the Eugene V. Debs Internet Archive



Here’s the microfilm that I’ve scanned this week, available for free download. Bear in mind that there is generally a short delay between completion of the scanning and its appearance on MIA. Thanks are due to David Walters for getting this material into an accessible format.

Social Democratic Herald — 1905, 1906 (Jan.-June)



The Idea of Democratic Socialism in America, by Robert J. Fitrakis, seems to have begun as a dissertation in 1993 before being published as a trade paperback in 2007 by the essentially unknown CICJ Books of Columbus, Ohio — meaning that I’ve been oblivious to this 361-page tome for a decade.


Not much of a cover, eh?

One can deduce the political line of a book about political parties by the individuals to whom chapter-length attentions is paid. For example, if I were writing a book about the Socialist Party, you could be sure that Gene Debs, Victor Berger, and Morris Hillquit would figure most prominently — and that would tell you something about me and it, pre-communist Marxism of the glory days… Fitrakis shines his spotlight on Gene Debs (1855-1926), Norman Thomas (1884-1968), and Michael Harrington (1928-1989). Unsurprisingly, then, we find here a long view with a distinctly modernist social democratic orientation.

Fitrakis finds common “deep religious roots” in all three of his heroes of the story, with the “old testament prophets” Debs and Thomas said to have “fused with and drew from the dynamism of Protestant revivialism by offering democratic socialism as the gospel solution,” while Mike Harrington’s background in the Catholic Worker movement is given prominent attention. (pp.  10-11)

Harrington, the founder of the predecessor organization of today’s Democratic Socialists of America, is depicted as the least successful of the three leaders, with his group — not unfairly given the time of writing — characterized as “little more than an [Americans for Democratic Action]-style pressure group using democratic socialist rhetoric while doing lay work for liberal [Democratic Party] candidates.” (p. 8) Harrington’s apparent failure is said to have been directly related to a “dogmatic adherence to ‘lesser evilism’ in politics.” (p. 12)

In the age of Trumpism and the reactionary onslaught on American institutions wrought in association, combined with the growth of DSA today into a mass organization, surely an assessment published today would draw a rather different conclusion, both as to the potential of DSA and the necessity of pursuing the tactic of lesser-evilism in an era when the welfare state and democracy itself is under attack from the proto-fascist forces that dominate the Republican Party.

I digress.

As for Debs, Fitrakis pinpoints a specific Dec. 24, 1899 letter in the dissident SLP People published by editor Algernon Lee as decisive in hardening his negative opinion of the bolting anti-DeLeon faction. If true, one is a little baffled by Debs’s lack of reading skills or his inability to accept anything less than full-throated support.

Said letter (sarcastically) notes:

Debs does not train in our camp, therefore Debs must be killed. [Christian socialist Toledo mayor] Jones does not speak after our fashion, Jones must be vilified. The Workers Call and the Class Struggle don’t follow our [specific path] to the goal: therefore these papers must be branded with treason. All this effort must be sacrificed to the negative god.

This same god must be served and honored locally with all the ardor developed by the close range of personal contempt. The demonstration is … a false and brutal attack, a long organized and desperate attempt to break the power of the positive forces…

Debs does not train in our camp, but Debs, with a great fund of human sentiment, but Debs reveals to the mind of the … unconscious mass that a great wrong is being done the human race by the human race. With the plow of injustice and the harrow of social crisis the call of the heart and mind is fitted to receive the higher revelations of social science. Debs to the assertive workers, to the positive side of the SLP organization is welcomed. His activity puts a higher obligation on them, to more closely define the difference between the knowledge of socialism and the sentiment of socialism, both prime and necessary factors to the propaganda. (fn. Author illegible, “Correspondence,” The People [dissident] vol. 9, no. 39 (Dec. 24, 1899), p. 4.)

Did aspiring socialist leader Debs in this period really have such a thin skin and so poor a comprehension of the written word that something like this set him off? It seems unlikely — but still, there was a thick and heavy bitterness that Debs felt towards the former SLP faction that must have had an origin in something.

One is hard-pressed to find anything in the surviving issues of that group’s official organ to merit Debs’s visceral antipathy. Perhaps a full run of this paper will emerge in fully legible form to solve this small mystery of intellectual history.

Fitrakis’s book is another one for the shelf, but I don’t think that it’s compelling me to look at the world in a different way.

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Debs on the Road in 1905 (19-05)


I was planning on writing this week about the Berger Affair of 1904-05, an interesting albeit arcane bit of Socialist Party history, or maybe about the founding convention of the IWW.

However, as luck would have it — and let there be no mistake, these blogs are driven as much by serendipity as design — I wound up going in an entirely different direction, leaving those big topics for another day.

Instead we will further examine Debs pursuing his career as a traveling orator in 1905.

woodstockjailI lightly detailed Debs’s first tour of 1905, six weeks in February and March, as part of the February 23 edition of this blog. This first trip to Kansas, Oklahoma, and the Indian Territory was followed by a second tour in May to Indiana and Illinois, including a speech at Woodstock, where he had served six months in jail five years hence. At Woodstock he was introduced by Georgie Eckert, the namesake daughter of the sheriff who held him in custody — both of whom would become lifelong friends.

Titles of Debs’s paid lectures were malleable and he spoke extemporaneously, probably bending content slightly to fit a specific presentation, but generally following a standard set of themes — with these covered topics and their applause lines gradually evolving over time. The most common advertised title of the May Indiana & Illinois tour seems to have been “The Genius of Liberty.”

Thereafter it appears there was a short break before Debs embarked on a mini-tour of Ohio in June, a handful of dates followed by the founding convention of the Industrial Workers of the World in Chicago.

Debs apparently left the IWW convention before its conclusion in order to fill a 4th of July date booked six months in advance in McKinley, Montana, said to have been a small town located 25 miles from the nearest railroad station. I’m not even finding record of this town today; if this account is even remotely correct (and some newspaper accounts of this era are flat fabricated or wrong), it truly stands as one of the worst bookings of Debs’s entire career as a professional speaker. I need to relocate the newspaper clip where I saw this factoid — it seems weird on so many levels. We do know by his own testimony that he left the convention early to fill a speaking date.

Debs returned to the road in earnest the following month, speaking at a widely promoted Chautauqua crowd in Wathena, Kansas on August 5, followed by dates in Freeport, Kewanee, and Dixon, Illinois. He was apparently home in Terre Haute again by August 9 — Debs generally did not spend much time on the road during the sweltering months of summer.

He would kick off another lengthy stint on the road in September.

•          •          •          •          •

An Interview with a Small Town Newspaper

Debs was on a paid lecture tour for much of September and October 1905, depoliticizing these talks to some extent to extend his appeal to a broader audience with such titles as “Twentieth Century Problems” or “Possibilities of the Twentieth Century.” Beginning with a big Labor Day speech at a picnic in Knoxville, he delivered speeches in the states of Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, and Kansas during this series, including among them appearances in a number of very small locales.

On October 5 Debs pulled into Cherryvale, Kansas, then a town of about 4,000 people in the Southeastern part of the state, located about 70 miles away from the Appeal to Reason’s home base in Girard. There, prior to his evening lecture, Debs granted a short interview to a persistent and pesky local newspaper reporter which was — rather unusually as these things go — published in full, verbatim.

As it seems quite unlikely that this material will make the cut for the crowded and eventful Volume 4 of the Debs Selected Works, I thought that it might be interesting to pass along this material here as an indicator of Debs’s gradual warming up to the idea of running for the presidency — after refusing outright in 1896 and dragging his feet in 1900 — as well as a measure of his changing impressions of the Socialist Party’s center of strength.


Hon. Eugene V. Debs, the great Socialist orator, twice a presidential candidate, who speaks at the opera house tonight, was seen in his room at the Axtell today by a Republican reporter and asked if he would consent to make a third race for the presidency if his party tendered him the nomination.

Mr. Debs replied:

Yes, I would consider such request to be a command and would obey the mandate of the great Socialist Party.

When asked in what state the Socialist Party had the greatest strength, Mr. Debs said,

In the East, in Massachusetts; in the West, Wisconsin, because they are industrial centers and the conditions make socialists. Another reason for the numerical strength in those states is that they have a large population of foreigners who are socialists before their arrival in this country.


Debs as he was depicted for the Cherryvale Daily Republican’s interview.

In your opinion, who will be the candidates of the next presidential campaign?

That is hard to say but it now appears that on the Republican ticket it will be either Foraker,[1] Shaw,[2] Taft,[3] or Fairbanks.[4]   I would not be surprised to see Bryan lead the Democrats.

What will be the paramount issue?

There will be really three — trusts, tariff revision, and railroad rate legislation. The third is the most vital this country has had to deal with since the adoption of the Constitution.

How long will it be before the Socialist Party will be strong enough to elect a president?

It is possible that it will happen in four years but it may not happen for forty years. The Democratic Party is disintegrating, and the Republican Party is getting those Democrats who are successful capitalists. The real Democrats are going into the Socialist Party.

What corporation is the greatest menace to the public today?

I don’t regard them as menaces — I regard them as promises, for this reason: The sooner they dispossess the people, the sooner the people will dispossess them. the more evil they commit, the sooner the end, and they pave the way for a new and better order.

What do you think of Roosevelt’s fight on the trusts?

It has done no good. There is absolutely no remedy for the trust evil except collective ownership.

Mr. Debs is a gentleman pleasant to meet, a deep thinker, earnest talker, and is devoting his life to the cause of socialism.

He arrived on the noon train and immediately retired to his room asking that he be not disturbed until six o’clock, but when the Republican reporter asked for an interview he kindly assented and although just awakened from a sound sleep was a moment later talking earnestly of the cause always uppermost in his mind, forgetful of his fatigue.

He is the recognized leader of the Socialist Party in the United States and the people of Cherryvale are fortunate in having an opportunity to hear him tonight.

[1] Joseph B. Foraker (1846-1917) was a United States senator from Ohio and former governor of that state.

[2] Leslie M. Shaw (1848-1932) was a former governor of Iowa who served as Secretary of the Treasury under the Theodore Roosevelt administration.

[3] William Howard Taft (1857-1930) was Secretary of War under Theodore Roosevelt. He was the nominee of the Republican Party and was elected the 27th President of the United States in 1908.

[4] Charles W. Fairbanks (1852-1918) was the sitting vice-president under Theodore Roosevelt and a former US senator from Indiana.

•          •          •          •          •

Debs in Topeka

A particularly fine commentary on Debs’s attributes, technique, and limitations as a public speaker is provided by this piece from the Topeka Daily Capital, entitled “Debs is an Earnest Speaker.” To reiterate what I said last year, the word EARNEST is unquestionably the largest adjective in a “word cloud” of phrases used about him in the press of his day, dwarfing all others. His voice was never recorded, so its tones remain to the imagination — but EARNEST is the word that comes up again and again and again.

L.E. Katterfeld can't find Eugene V. Debs - Newspapers.com

This is pure gold, a little snippet about Debs apparently ditching the coordinator of his second Topeka lecture, Washburn College student L.E. “Dutch” Katterfeld (1881-1974). Sixteen years later Katterfeld would be Executive Secretary of the Communist Party of America. (Topeka State Journal, 10/14/05, p. 2.) A later report indicates that Debs actually didn’t arrive from Kansas City until shortly before he went on stage, meaning that the young Katterfeld had been frantically searching for a man who wasn’t in town yet.

Here is the Topeka review:

Mr. Debs is tall and bald and fifty. Withal he is an orator, and of the type that might aspire to rise to the greatest heights in the eyes and hearts of the laboring man. He speaks plainly and clearly, generally avoids theatricalities and oratorical pomposity, even rhetoric and declamation. Except in fine pathetic passages of his address last night [a two-hour address before 400 working men], he spoke clearly, evenly, without stridence, and without the semblance of affectation.

The speaker’s voice is hardly modeled for the sort of oratory he avoids and this, with the fact that it would be ill-suited to his purpose probably, has kept him from vocal flights. Yet Mr. Debs is an orator in every essential sense of he word. He expounds clearly and concisely; he draws weird pictures of poverty and squalor and hatred with the genius of a master; he passes gracefully and unnoticed over the pitfalls of public debate; he rises ennobled to high sentiment; droops plaintively to rich pathos, and holds his listeners fascinated.

There is in him the strong intuition which leads to the hearer the thought ere it is half uttered, and sweeps him away on the wings of emotion with hardly an effort. Such an orators must have been construed to become the modern Moses of socialism. (fn. “Debs is an Earnest Speaker,” Topeka Daily Capital, vol. 29, no 246 (Oct. 14, 1905), p. 6.)

•          •          •          •          •

The IWW Speeches, Redux

iww-logo-smNone of these “Genius of Liberty” or “Twentieth Century Problems” sort of paid lectures — he delivered an absolute minimum of 50 of these — have much to do at all with the well-known speeches on behalf of the IWW of November and December 1905.

Those we have seen a dozen times… We can recite them by name, can we not? All stenographically transcribed and released as pamphlets: Class Unionism, Craft Unionism, Revolutionary Unionism, and Industrial Unionism… November 23 at Aurora Hall, Chicago; Nov. 24 at Union Hall, South Chicago; Nov. 25 at Country Democracy Hall, Chicago; December 10 at Grand Central Palace, New York City, respectively.

Four peas, one pod — 40,000 or so precise words saved for posterity. And published. And republished. And republished.

Were there IWW speeches in between these? No. Other Illinois speeches in early December seem to have been on “The Issue of the 20th Century.” Were these IWW speeches part of a larger tour? No. They were specifically booked under the auspices of the IWW and so far as I am aware, the number was exactly four.

My question for you: if Debs delivered a minimum of 50 and probably more like 75 or even 100 of the “Genius of Liberty” and “Twentieth Century Problems” type lectures in 1905 but just four (certainly no more than half a dozen) speeches specifically extolling the Industrial Workers under their auspices — which then were the “real” Debs speeches of 1905?

Both, yes? Certainly not the latter to the exclusion of the former…

You’d never know that from the previous Debs collections.



The official deadline for Eugene V. Debs Selected Works: Volume 4 is October 15, 2019. I’m setting a soft deadline of August 1 to finish the document compilation phase of the project. This means there are now 20 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 Earth for All” (Jan. 14, 1905) — 1,221 words
  • “New Industrial Union to Be Organized” (June 22, 1905) — 2,349 words
  • “The Misrepresentation and Lies of the Capitalist Press” (early July 1905) — 703 words
  • “Now for Action” (July 27, 1905) — 630 words
  • “You Have a Higher Mission: Labor Day Speech in Knoxville, Tennessee”
    (Sept. 4, 1905) — 3,970 words
  • “Working Class Unity: A Labor Day Message” (Sept. 9, 1905) — 1,379 words
  • “I Would Consider the Nomination a Command: Interview with the Cherrydale Daily Republican” (Oct. 5, 1905) — 605 words
  • “The Growth of Socialism” (Oct. 11, 1905) — 4,253 words
  • “Discourse on Liberty: Excerpt from a Speech at Leavenworth, Kansas” (Oct. 12, 1905) — 308 words

Word count: 58,269 in the can + 15,418 this week +/- amendments = 73,687 words total.


David Walters will be running all of this material up on Marxists Internet Archive in coming days.

To find it, please visit the Eugene V. Debs Internet Archive



I spent my week reading Debs Papers microfilm, so the digitization had to be set aside for the moment… Here’s the microfilm that I’ve scanned this week, available for free download. Bear in mind that there is a short delay between completion of the scanning and its appearance on MIA.



utopiasI tracked down a pretty nice hardcover copy of a book I really like, Utopias on Puget Sound, 1885-1915, by Charles Pierce LeWarne, published by University of Washington Press in 1975. The initial strategy of Debs’s Social Democracy of America involved the establishment of a series of socialist communities in the relatively unpopulated frontier state of Washington, to inspire migration to the state and emulation by success of these initiatives, and then to take over the state government at the ballot box — making the state into a model for the nation and starting a title wave that would end with socialist government at the national level.

The reality of attempting to generate manna from dirt clods proved rather different. This book explores the effort of the Brotherhood of the Cooperative Commonwealth at Burley and Equality, the anarchist effort at Home, as well as several other lesser-known efforts of the same time period.

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