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