Eugene V. Debs, Incarnate Spirit of Revolt

by John Spargo
June, 1908

To be chosen standard bearer of the Socialist party in three successive electoral campaigns is to receive a unique tribute. For the candidates of the Socialist movement are not chosen by a few bosses, free to reward their favorite servitors with honors, place and pelf: they are chosen by the nearest approach to ideal democratic methods yet devised by any political party.

No man who had unworthily borne the Socialist banner in one campaign, or who had disappointed the hopes of his comrades, could possibly be nominated a second time. One act of cowardice or dishonor would be enough to make the renomination of any man impossible, no matter how gifted he might be.

Demos is a hard taskmaster. Some have said that Demos is ungrateful and unappreciative of loyal service. The annals of the Socialist movement certainly furnish some support to the charge. And yet, though its appreciation is not shouted from housetops, nor symbolized by golden crowns and hero-worship, those who have served longest and hardest in the ranks know that service to the Cause of Liberty is not unappreciated; that love and faithful comradeship are showered upon the true and brave soldiers in the great army of Labor.

No man in America has done nobler service for the cause of Socialism than Eugene V. Debs; no man has given more freely of his strength to keep the altar fires of the Revolution bright. And no man has been more richly and warmly loved than Debs has been. The love of his comrades has been his constant reward and inspiration.

And Debs has given love for love. How much the outpouring of his love upon the hearts of his comrades has meant to the Socialist movement will never be measured. To many a wearied fighter in the ranks his words of cheer, vibrant with love and appreciative sympathy, has been as a cooling drought from the deep fountains of life. To many a comrade walking in the dark and silent places his strong handclasp has brought strength and assurance. To many a soul swept from its moorings he has given the anchorage of a new faith. He has mingled his tears with the tears of many of his stricken comrades and borne upon his strong shoulders the burdens which bore too heavily upon them. Debs draws love from a million hearts as a well draws from showers and springs; and like a well he gives it back to all who thirst for love as they cross the desert of life.

Our love for Eugene V. Debs, the greatest lover of us all, entered into our choice of him as the bearer of our standard, the scarlet banner of the sacred cause, the symbol of a world-brotherhood to be. But it was not our love alone. Into our choice there entered another element than our love for Debs, namely, our consciousness that he was splendidly equipped for the task. Nature and Destiny seemed to have joined to dower Debs with the qualities of mind and soul needed for the task we gave him.

Inscrutable are the ways of Nature's working, and we may not understand the fashioning of a human life in her mysterious workshop. Was it a father's independence and pride which infused the son's being with a rebel spirit? Was it the mother's passion for beauty and freedom in life during the long days and nights when her unborn son stirred within her which caused the boy so soon to seek the companionship of the flowers and the stars, to envy the freedom of the birds and to shudder at all the ugly in life?

To such questions Science can give no answer. We only know that there was such a child, worshipping beauty and loving freedom; hating ugliness and pain. And this we know only as we know the man. The man must have been in the boy.

We know that there can be no living Socialist movement in any country which is not a product of its own life and experience. The Socialist movement is born anew out of the womb of capitalistic conditions in every country. And as with the Socialist movement itself, so must it be with the apostles of its faith. The greatest apostles of the emancipation must likewise be the products of the life and experience from which the movement springs. No amount of intellectual training can take the place of that proletarian psychology which is expressed in the irresistible passion for liberty of that great red army whose tread onward shakes the world.

The psychology and passion of the proletariat are incarnated in Eugene V. Debs. Life, Fate, Destiny - call it what you will! - added to Nature's contribution the elements which made him the Genius of the Revolution. The little comrade of the stars and the flowers grew to be the human embodiment of the Spirit of the revolt of the Disinherited and Despoiled, the living Voice of the Doomed and Damned.

But first of all he must suffer. To voice the cry of Labor he must first endure its agony; to speak the protest of the Doomed he must first endure the doom. Led by Destiny, he went the weary way of toil and tragedy, the way along which the dumb millions march in pain to their Golgotha. Each footfall tore his heartstrings; each fallen human wreck woke in his soul a yearning to spear; their curse to the driving Power he could not see. Each human cry sank into his heart, each tortured curse he nourished as his own.

He heard voices and saw visions. Voices called him to a service he could not understand. As Joan of Arc listened to the unseen voices, so he listened. But he understood not. They cried out to him, bidding him voice the wrong. "Speak! Speak for the Dumb who cannot speak! Speak their protest! Speak their curse!"

He saw visions where other men saw only a black void. For him the blackness was peopled with tragic human shapes. He saw the Victims of the Centuries. He saw Labor bound to wheels. He saw Hunger rob the Cradle. He saw Death dance to the cries of Mocked Motherhood. And far off, like the Prisoner of Patmos, he saw a New Earth in which all human beings were comrades of the flowers and the stars, and sharers of the freedom of the birds.

He obeyed the voices. He spoke in the Assembly of the Law-makers - spoke for Labor and against Labor's wrongs. He spoke for the Dumb, for the Doomed and Damned. He spoke their protest and their curse. He spoke for Childhood and for Motherhood - spoke for the Makers of Laws. And when he spoke they answered with the howl of the Beast.

But Labor heard him speak its own Protest; heard him hurl at the Makers of Laws and the Masters of Bread the curse its heart had fashioned and its lips failed to speak. Labor knew that Debs voiced its own dumb agony and cheered him on by glad applause and by its love. But while he spoke there was sadness in his heart, each speech was answered in his own soul by a sense of sadness and of shame. Perhaps it was vain to speak to the Makers of Laws and the Masters of Bread! Perhaps it was better to speak to the Slaves of Bread! Better to speak to Labor and to teach it speech!

But the new speech brought no heartease. Ever the sense of Failure shamed him and tore his soul. And yet the voices bade him speak. "Speak of the visions! Speak of the New Earth! Speak and lead the way!" they cried. And his tortured soul answered in agony: "I cannot show the way, for I know it not!"

The Masters of Bread knew nothing of the struggle of his soul; they knew not that his speech which woke their fears was but his whisper! They could not know that the things their Fear and their Hate bade them do would loosen his tongue and give it speech like thunder. In their ignorance they forged a thunderbolt with which the barriers to the pathway to the land of the vision would be shattered. They cast Debs into prison. And in his prison cell Debs was to find Freedom - the Freedom of his Soul.

When they prisoned Debs they unprisoned his soul. When they drew the bolts that pent his body in Woodstock jail they made Eugene V. Debs a free man. In the silences of that prison cell his tongue was loosed and his eyes saw the vision of the Comrade-world and the way by which it must be reached. In the prison cell the Angel of Freedom touched his lips with fire from the altar and set him free to proclaim the Revolution. In their rage the Masters of Bread thought that they could silence Debs, but instead they broke the only fetter upon his soul and upon his speech.

Thus was Debs trained to be our standard bearer. Thus did he become the Voice of the Revolution whose call to Labor was destined to shake the hemisphere. He bore the people's banner as one marked for the mission by Inexorable Destiny. He bore it proudly, nobly, wherever the fight was fiercest, and when he shouted the battle cry of Socialism it echoed through the land from sea to sea, from snow-capped mountain and deepest valley. And Labor heard the battle cry and answered in speech both clear and strong. And when he took the banner and went forth a second time, louder and stronger grew the answering cry, so that the Masters of Bread trembled in their seats of power and privilege.

And now, once more, speeded by the love of fifty thousand comrades in the organized movement, and by half a million in the larger army, Debs goes forth bearing the banner and proclaiming the message of Socialism. Once more he goes forth to voice the cry of the Disinherited, the curse of the Doomed and Damned. Once more the Incarnate Spirit of the Revolution goes forth to point men to the Vision of a world rich with the glory of comradeship, throbbing with the joy of freedom, radiant with love - the New Earth, resonant with the mingled songs of free and happy human beings; resplendent with the beauty of unfettered life.

And a million workingmen will answer with their cheers and pledge their faith with their votes! |