Remembering Convict #9653

I have always hoped that the human race would evolve beyond greed and self-interest. Of course, there’s nothing in our human history that shows that there’s any hope of that happening.

I’m thinking about the

turn of the century 1900, the era of extreme capitalists, sometimes referred to as “Robber Barons,” that consisted of the very wealthy and everybody else. Those 1% of the 1% fought hard to keep regular people as poor as they could, and they kept every penny they squeezed from the working poor. (Remind you of another time, say … recently? Hmmm.)

I am thinking about Eugene Debs, who fought for the rights of the working class to organize and strike and who founded the Socialist Party. Eugene Victor “Gene” Debs was an American union leader, one of the founding members of the Industrial Workers of the World, and five times the candidate of the Socialist Party of America for President of the United States

I think that it’s important to note that:

He refused to allow the Socialist Party to join forces with the various Communist parties that were active at the time, believing that the more moderate Socialist Party platform would win more hearts and minds. Considering that we now take for granted a lot of the things it fought for, the platform was radical for the time. It included:
A minimum wage
An end to child labor
Rights for black Americans
Improving working conditions
Increasing the number of people who can vote

On June 16, 1918, Eugene Debs delivered his final speech before heading to prison. As World War I raged on across the world, he spoke these words near a jail where several of his fellow Socialist Party acquaintances were housed for “antiwar agitation.” 1,200 people attended the party convention. He took advantage of the audience, and the moment in history, to speak to the crowd….His words were later used to sentence him to prison for 10 years. It was from there that he received nearly 1 million votes for president in 1920, running as simply Convict No. 9653.

“These are the gentry who are today wrapped up in the American flag, who shout their claim from the housetops that they are the only patriots, and who have their magnifying glasses in hand, scanning the country for evidence of disloyalty, eager to apply the brand of treason to the men who dare to even whisper their opposition to Junker rule in the United Sates. No wonder Sam Johnson declared that “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” He must have had this Wall Street gentry in mind, or at least their prototypes, for in every age it has been the tyrant, the oppressor, and the exploiter who has wrapped himself in the cloak of patriotism, or religion, or both to deceive and overawe the people.

[snip]

But they themselves did not go to war any more than the modern feudal lords, the barons of Wall Street. The feudal barons of the Middle Ages, the economic predecessors of the capitalists of our day, declared all wars. And their miserable serfs fought all the battles. The poor, ignorant serfs had been taught to revere their masters; to believe that when their masters declared war upon one another, it was their patriotic duty to fall upon one another and to cut one another’s throats for the profit and glory of the lords and barons who held them in contempt. And that is war in a nutshell. The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and all to lose — especially their lives.

They have always taught and trained you to believe it to be your patriotic duty to go to war and to have yourselves slaughtered at their command. But in all the history of the world, you — the people — have never had a voice in declaring war. And strange as it certainly appears, no war by any nation in any age has ever been declared by the people.

And here let me emphasize the fact—and it cannot be repeated too often—that the working class who fight all the battles, the working class who make the supreme sacrifices, the working class who freely shed their blood and furnish their corpses, have never yet had a voice in either declaring war or making peace. It is the ruling class that invariably does both.

They alone declare war, and they alone make peace.

Yours not to reason why; yours but to do and die.

That is their motto, and we object on the part of the awakening workers of this nation. If war is right let it be declared by the people. You who have your lives to lose, you certainly above all others have the right to decide the momentous issue of war or peace.”

Check out the Democratic Socialists of America: Democratic Socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically to meet human needs, not to make profits for a few. We are a political and activist organization, not a party; through campus and community-based chapters DSA members use a variety of tactics, from legislative to direct action, to fight for reforms that empower working people.

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