Socialism in the United States

The 19th century had been a period of rapid industrial expansion in America. Between 1800 and 1900 the per capita wealth of the country had increased from $200 to $1,200. However, the distribution of this wealth was extremely uneven. A report published in Arena in 1901 revealed that 1 per cent of the population owned 54 per cent of the wealth. That two-hundredth of a per cent (4,000 millionaires) had 20 per cent of the total wealth.

In 1872 Victoria Woodhull, he leader of the International Workingman's Association in New York City published The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. Later that year Woodhull was nominated as the presidential candidate of the Equal Rights Party. Although laws prohibited women from voting, there was nothing stopping women from running for office. Woodhull suggested that Frederick Douglass should become her running partner but he declined the offer.

During the campaign Woodhull called for the "reform of political and social abuses; the emancipation of labor, and the enfranchisement of women". Woodhull also argued in favour of improved civil rights and the abolition of capital punishment. These policies gained her the support of socialists, trade unionists and women suffragists. However, her name did not appear on the ballot because she was one year short of the Constitutionally mandated age of thirty-five.

It was this economic situation that stimulated a growth in socialist ideas in the United States. In 1874 a group of socialists formed the Workingmen's Party. Three years later it was renamed the Socialist Labor Party. Some members of the party came under the influence of the anarchist ideas of the German revolutionary, Johann Most.

In 1886 the party became involved in helping organize the campaign for the eight-hour day. At one meeting on 4th May, in Chicago, the Haymarket Bombing took place and several former members of the party, including August Spies, Albert Parson, Adolph Fisher and George Engel, were found guilty of conspiracy to murder and executed.

Daniel De Leon and Laurence Gronlund emerged as leader of the Socialist Labor Party in the 1890s. De Leon, a Marxist, favoured the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. However, Gronlund, in books such as Cooperative Commonwealth (1884), Our Destiny (1891), The New Economy (1898) and Socializing a State (1898) advocated a reformist approach to socialism.

The Social Democratic Party (SDP) was founded in 1897 by a group of left-wing journalists and trade union activists. Leading figures included Eugene Debs, Victor Berger and Ella Reeve Bloor. In 1901 the SDP merged with Socialist Labor Party to form the Socialist Party of America.

The new Socialist Party of America claimed a membership of 10,000 and over the next few years leading figures in the party included Daniel De Leon, Philip Randolph, Emil Seidel, Julius Wayland, Fred Warren, Chandler Owen, William Z. Foster, Abraham Cahan, Sidney Hillman, Morris Hillquit, Walter Reuther, Bill Haywood, Margaret Sanger, Kate Richards O'Hare, Florence Kelley, Rose Pastor Stokes, Mary White Ovington, Helen Keller, Inez Milholland, Floyd Dell, William Du Bois, Hubert Harrison, Upton Sinclair, Mary Lease, Victor Berger, Daniel Hoan, Frank Zeidler, Robert Hunter, George Herron, Claude McKay, Sinclair Lewis, Max Eastman, William Walling and Jack London .

Between 1901 and 1912 membership of the Socialist Party of America grew from 10,000 to 150,000. In 1913 the socialist journal, Appeal to Reason reached a circulation of over 760,000.

On the outbreak of the First World War most socialists in the United States were opposed to the conflict. They claimed that the war had been caused by the imperialist competitive system and argued that the America should remain neutral. This was also the view expressed in the three main socialist journals, Appeal to Reason, The Masses and The Call.

After the USA declared war on the Central Powers in 1917, the government passed the Espionage Act. Under this act it was an offence to make speeches that undermined the war effort. Criticised as unconstitutional, the act resulted in the imprisonment of many members of the anti-war movement including 450 conscientious objectors. During the First World War several Socialist Party members, including Eugene Debs, Kate Richards O'Hare, Victor Berger and Rose Pastor Stokes were imprisoned for their anti-war activities.

People working for The Masses were also prosecuted and the magazine was forced to close. The Call was also prosecuted but the Appeal to Reason decided to support the war effort to remain in business.

After the First World War, the attorney general, A. Mitchell Palmer, became convinced that communist and socialists were planning to overthrow the American government. Palmer recruited John Edgar Hoover as his special assistant and together they used the Espionage Act (1917) and the Sedition Act (1918) to launch a campaign against radicals and left-wing organizations.

On 7th November, 1919, the second anniversary of the Russian Revolution, over 10,000 suspected communists and anarchists were arrested in what became known as the Palmer Raids. Palmer and Hoover found no evidence of a proposed revolution but large number of these suspects were held without trial for a long time. The vast majority were eventually released but Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, Mollie Steimer, and 245 other people, were deported to Russia.

In 1920 Eugene Debs, the Socialist Party of America presidential candidate, received 919,799 votes while still in Atlanta Penitentiary. His program included proposals for improved labour conditions, housing and welfare legislation and an increase in the number of people who could vote in elections.

As a result of this Red Scare people became worried about subscribing to left-wing journals and the Appeal to Reason, which was selling 760,000 copies a week before the First World War, was forced to close in November, 1922. The following year The Call ceased publication.

After the death of Eugene Debs in 1926 Norman Thomas became the leader of the party and was its presidential candidate in 1928, 1932 and 1936. As a result of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his successful New Deal policies, some members of the party such as David Dubinsky, called for socialists to vote for the Democratic Party, in 1936. As a result the Socialist Party vote dropped to 185,000, less than 20 per cent of that achieved in 1932. However the party continued to do well in certain cities such as Milwaukee, where Daniel Hoan was mayor of the city between 1916 and 1940.

During the McCarthy Era membership of the party fell to below 2,000 members. A large number of socialists including Walter Reuther, Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, left the party with the view that you had more chance of achieving progressive reform by being active in the Democratic Party.

Under the leadership of Michael Harrington, the Socialist Party Conference in 1968 passed a resolution endorsing Hubert Humphrey for president. In 1972 the party supported George McGovern.

In 1976 the Socialist Party ran a presidential campaign for the first time in twenty years. Frank Zeidler, the former mayor of Milwaukee (1948-60), was nominated as president. Other presidential candidates have included David McReynolds (1980 and 2000), Willa Kenoyer (1988), John Quinn Brisben (1992), Mary Cal Hollis (1996), Walt Brown (2004), Brian Moore (2008) and Stewart Alexander (2012).

Primary Sources

(1) Victoria Woodhull, Lecture on Constitutional Equality (20th February, 1872)

That the framers of the Constitution had Woman's Rights clearly in their minds is borne out by its whole structure. Nowhere is the word man used in contradistinction to woman. They avoided both terms and used the word "persons" for the same reason as they avoided the word "slavery," namely, to prevent an untimely contest over rights which might prematurely be discussed to the injury of the infant republic.

The issue upon the question of female suffrage being thus definitely settled, and its rights inalienably secured to woman, a brighter future dawns upon the country. Woman can now unite in purifying the elements of political strife in restoring the government to pristine integrity, strength and vigor. To do this, many reforms become of absolute necessity. Prominent in these are:

A complete reform in the Congressional and Legislative work, by which all political discussion shall be banished from legislative halls, and debate be limited to the actual business of the people.

A complete reform in Executive and Departmental conduct, by which the President and the Secretaries of the United States, and the Governors and State officers, shall be forced to recognize that they are the servants of the people, appointed to attend to the business of the people, and not for the purpose of perpetuating their official positions, or of securing the plunder of public trusts for the enrichment of their political adherents and supporters.

A reform in the tenure of office, by which the Presidency shall be limited to one term, with a retiring life pension, and a permanent seat in the Federal Senate, where his Presidential experience may become serviceable to the nation, and on the dignity and life emolument of Presidential Senator he shall be placed above all other political positions, and be excluded from all professional pursuits.

A reform between the relations of the employer and employed, by which shall be secured the practice of the great natural law, of one-third of time to labor, one-third to recreation and one-third to rest, that by this intellectual improvement and physical development may go on to that perfection which the Almighty Creator designed.

A reform in the system of crime punishment, by which the death penalty shall no longer be inflicted - by which the hardened criminal shall have no human chance of being let loose to harass society until the term of the sentence, whatever that may be, shall have expired, and by which, during that term, the entire prison employment shall be for - and the product thereof be faithfully paid over to - the support of the criminal's family, instead of being absorbed by the legal thieves to whom, in most cases, the administration of prison discipline has been entrusted, and by whom atrocities are perpetrated in the secrecy of the prison enclosure, which, were they revealed, would shock the moral sense of all mankind.

In the broadest sense, I claim to be the friend of equal rights, a faithful worker in the cause of human advancement; and more especially the friend, supporter, co-laborer with those who strive to encourage the poor and the friendless.

If I obtain the position of President of the United States, I promise that woman's strength and woman's will with God's support, if he vouchsafe it, shall open to them, and to this country, a new career of greatness in the race of nations.

In accordance with the above, we shall assume the new position that the rights of women under the Constitution are complete, and hereafter we shall contend, I not for a Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution, but that the Constitution already recognizes women as citizens, and that they are justly entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens.

It will therefore be our duty to call on women everywhere to come boldly forward and exercise the right they are thus

guaranteed. It is not to be expected that men who assume that they alone, as citizens of the United States, are entitled

to all the immunities and privileges guaranteed by the Constitution, will consent that women may exercise the right of

suffrage until they are compelled. We will never cease the struggle until they are recognized, and we see women established in their true position of equality with the rest of the citizens of the United States.

(2) Victoria Woodhull, speech, (February, 1872)

These privileged classes of the people have an enduring hatred for me, and I am glad they have. I am a friend not only of freedom in all things, and in every form, but also for equality and justice as well. These cannot be inaugurated except through revolution. I am denounced as desiring to precipitate revolution. I acknowledge it. I am for revolution, if to get equality and justice it is required.

(3) Cincinnati Commercial, May 11, 1872

Last night I stepped into Apollo Hall, one of the noblest and most picturesque halls in the city, where the National Convention of the Woodhull and Claflin, Male and Female Labor Party are holding a two days’ session. As I approached the place, I heard the voice of Mrs. Woodhull resounding through the hall, and when I entered I found her standing in front of the platform, which was filled with people of both sexes, and declaiming in the most impassioned style, before a crowded audience of men and women who had been wrought up to a very high state of excitement. The scene was really dramatic, and to those who were in sympathy with it, it was, doubtless "thrilling," "glorious," "sublime." Somehow or other, Mrs. Woodhull, as she stood there, dressed in plain black, with flushed face, gleaming eye, locks partly disheveled, upraised arm and quivering under the fire of her own rhapsody, reminded me of the great Rachel in some of those tragic or fervid passages in which the dominating powers of her nature and genius were displayed in their highest effect. She seemed at moments like one possessed, and the eloquence which poured from her lips in reckless torrents swept through the souls of the multitude in a way which caused them to burst, every now and then, with uproarious enthusiasm. A moment after I entered there was one of these spiritual explosions, which brought her to a brief pause, and the first sentence I heard was her exclamation, in loud, clear tone: "Who will dare to attempt to unlock the luminous portals of the future with the rusty key of the past?" Age, indeed who will? was the thought which involuntary came to one’s mind while looking at the extraordinary spectacle displayed in Apollo Hall.

When her declamation ended, the audience, masculine and feminine, sprang to their feet and cheered till their wind was exhausted, cheered with a frenzy and force that must have startled the multitudinous promenaders who swept along Broadway. The heroine of the moment disappeared from the platform, but the multitude encored till she returned, stepped to the front, and bowed once and again her acknowledgments for the applause.

Then a stout and hearty personage, who was recognized by the Chair as Judge Carter of Cincinnati, stepped quickly to the front, and in stentorian tones nominated Mrs. Victoria C. Woodhull as a candidate for the Presidency of the United States. "All who are in favor of the nomination, say aye" were the words from the Chair, and instantly the shouts of the Convention, delegates and outsiders, burst forth in a roar, thunderous and continuous, which might have blown the roof of the building to the skies. Again Mrs. Woodhull appeared on the platform, and accepted the nomination in a few words.

Then followed an hour’s wrangle, with countless speeches as to the candidate for the Vice Presidency. The first nomination made was that of Frederick Douglass, who was eulogized by half a dozen speakers in succession, and opposed by two or three, on various grounds. We had the oppressed sex represented by Woodhull; we must have the oppressed race represented by Douglass. Other names followed: Ben Wade, Theodore Tilton, Spotted Tail, Ben Butler, Henry Ward Beecher, Robert Dale Owen, Governor Campbell, Wendell Phillips, Richard Trevithick, and others. Frederick Douglass, however, at last got the vote of the Convention. And was thus nominated for the second place on the Woodhull Presidential ticket - the Executive Committee being empowered to substitute another name in case of his refusal to accept.

The platform of the party, which demands a new National Constitution, and numerous other things in the revolutionary line, was subsequently adopted.

I forgot to say that throughout the entertainment, the audience were excessively merry and were as wildly enthusiastic. She left the place pretty well exhausted with cheering. The audience were highly respectable, as well as large and strikingly American in physiognomy and appearance. There were large numbers of fashionable dressed ladies, and most of the gentlemen evidently belonged to the business and professional classes. There were also plenty of "Reformers," and in fact, it was they who contributed the real genius of the assemblage.

At the close of the session, Mrs. Woodhull, the nominee for the Presidency, passed into an ante-room, where her friends crowded to congratulate her. She was in ecstasy, and so was her sister, Miss Claflin. Her face beamed under her high-crowned Neapolitan black hat. She shook hands with the gentlemen enthusiastically. The ladies kissed her and embraced her, kissed each other, and kissed her again. I never before saw so much kissing and hugging in public, nor, for that matter, in private either. Men were not afraid to pass hands round women who were not their wives, and women indulged in political osculation till they were tired.

(4) Mary Lease, speech at Cooper Union Hall (12th August, 1896)

I accept this splendid greeting from this splendid audience in evidence that there is no Mason and Dixon's line between the East and the West. I accept it as an evidence of the fact that the people of the East and West are battling for a common cause against a common foe. Not since the bleeding years of the war have party lines been so nearly obliterated, and the obedience to party leaders so refused as at the present time. The heart of the nation is aroused, and Principle and not Self is the watchword. The great heart of the nation beats response to patriotism, and the nation is safe.

We stand today at the beginning of one of those revolutionary periods that mark an advance of the race. We stand at a period that marks a reformation. All history is illustrated by the fact that new liberties cannot exist with old tyrannies. New ideals ever seek new manifestations. The ideals of Christ could not live under the tyrannies of the Roman government. The ideals of the founders of this Government could not exist under the tyrannies of royal rule.

The grand principles of Socialism and the brotherhood of man cannot live under old forms of tyranny - neither under the forms of Old-World tyranny nor of British gold.

Yet today our splendid theory of government is confronted by a great peril. We have become blind to evils that menace us. We are confronted with glutted markets and idle labor. It is a condition that makes it possible for a few men to become landlords of a proud city like this while God's poor are packed in the slums. Such a condition is not only a menace to Republican institutions, but a travesty upon the gospel of Jesus Christ.

It makes it possible, too, for an American to pay $10,000,000 for the cast-off, disreputable rags of old world royalty, for the scion of a house that boasts the blood of a Jeffreys and a Marlborough. It is a disgrace to our nation.

A condition by which the wealth accumulated by the common people is poured into lard tubs and oil wells, to enable Mr. Rockefeller to found a college and Mr. Whitney to buy a diamond tiara for his daughter is a disgrace to the country.

Once we made it our boast that this nation was not founded upon any class distinction. But now we are not only buying diamonds for their wives and daughters and selling our children to titled debauchees, but we are setting aside our Constitution and establishing a gold standard to help the fortunes of our hereditary foe.

Today, a determined and systematic effort is being made by our financiers to perpetuate a gold standard. Every influence that moulds public opinion has been bought up, and the great dailies in the employ of the gold syndicate have fallen into line. The whole power of the government administration is being used to deceive the people. We hear sound money and honest dollar applied to the most dishonest money that ever cursed a nation or enslaved a people. What right has McKinley or Whitney to delegate our constitutional right to coin money to England or any other nation?"

An organized effort is making to deceive the people. There are two great enemies of thought and progress, the aristocracy of royalty and the aristocracy of gold. Long ago, the aristocracy of royalty came to a common plane with the common people by the discovery of gunpowder, and the two met on a common field. Where is the respect of old for royalty? Even the English speak of their sovereign, Queen Victoria as being made not of common clay, but of common mud. The aristocracy of royalty is dying out.

But here in this country we find in place of an aristocracy of royalty an aristocracy of wealth. Far more dangerous to the race is it than the aristocracy of royalty. It is the aristocracy of gold that disintegrates society, destroys individuals and has ruined the proudest nations. It has called Rothschild's agent here to make the platform of the Republican party.

(5) New York Herald Tribune (13th August, 1896)

Charmed by the seductive oratory of Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Lease, the free silver mass-meeting at Cooper Union last night nursed itself into all the semblance of a Socialistic gathering. From the beginning to the end, from the first sentence of introduction until the Kansas woman had concluded in a sonorous period, Socialism predominated. Every mention of gold or wealth was greeted with shouts and jeers, and the names of Whitney and Cleveland, of Vanderbilt and Rothschild were hailed with hisses and cat-calls.

As advertised, the meeting was under the guidance of the Social Reform Club, an organization that has the worthy object of bettering the fortunes of the worker. As advertised, the meeting was in the cause of free silver. But the predominance of the Socialists more than once overcame this, and the currency question was forgotten while the orators spoke at length upon Socialistic beliefs.

It does not necessarily follow because Mrs. Lease somewhat unsexed herself by her indulgence in turbulent and inflammatory discourse at Cooper Union that all women are unfitted by Nature to participate in the excitement of political contests or to have a voice in the calm and deliberate discussions which ought always to attend upon the settlement of grave and serious governmental problems. We might as well say that the similarly wild and reckless outgivings of the Tillmans and Altgelds demonstrated the unfitness of the sterner sex for self-government. But there is this to be said, of which there can be no denial, that Mrs. Lease upon the political platform or stump, uttering invectives more than masculine, and appealing to the brutal passions of the mob rather than to the calm sense of reasoning men and women, must be treated the same as any other mob leader, male or female. She cannot shelter herself behind her sex while appealing to bloodthirsty passions and inciting lawless riot.

Mrs. Lease is representative of the party - we will not call it Democratic - which presents Mr. Bryan as a candidate. In the principles she avows, and the policies she advocates, in the coarse vigor of her speech and the startling aggressiveness of her manner, she is in the highest degree the best and truest exponent of the Bryan platform and party. In the extravagance of her language, the wantonness and recklessness with which she appealed to class hatred, pointing out by name as the proper objects of popular vengeance good and honorable citizens whose only offence is the possession of property accumulated honestly under the laws, she may have seemed to be in advance of her party. But only a step; just enough to bring out with clearness and distinctness the real spirit and purpose of the revolutionists and Anarchists who are bent on the destruction of public credit and the overthrow of social order. A step behind this raging virago, foaming with fury and blazing with wrath, is the wild mob of levellers eager for the general distribution of spoils; behind them the Terror, with its bloody bacchanals and merciless savagery.

(6) Julius Wayland, Appeal to Reason (18th November, 1899)

A great many people believe that they know what socialism means, but they do not. They vainly imagine that it refers to bursting bombs, burning buildings, rapine and plunder. But those folks have never looked for the definition in Webster's dictionary which says that socialism is: "A theory of society that advocates a more precise, orderly and harmonious arrangement of the social relations of mankind than that which has hitherto prevailed."

Of course that does not sound so very bad. Still for fear that Noah Webster may have been out of his head when defining socialism, let us go to some other authority and read carefully the definition in the Standard dictionary, which says that socialism is: "A theory of policy that aims to secure the reconstruction of society, increase of wealth, and a more equal distribution of the products of labor through the public collective ownership of labor and capital (as distinguished from property) and the public collective management of all industries."

Maybe things have changed since Noah Webster died. We have it here. The Century dictionary defines socialism as: "Any theory or system of local organization which would abolish entirely, or in a greater part, the individual effort and competition on which modern society rests, and substitute co-operation; would introduce a more perfect and equal distribution of the products of labor; and would make land and capital, as the instruments of production, the joint possessions of the community."

Then, again, there are our religious friends who have vaguely, but wrongly, believed that socialism was the enemy of religion. What have you to say of this statement made by the Encyclopedia Britannica? "The ethics of socialism are identical with the ethics of Christianity."

(7) Samuel Jones, the successful businessman and four-term mayor of Toledo, Ohio, was one of the first to try and introduce socialist ideas to local government. He explained his views in his article, The New Patriotism: A Golden-Rule Government for Cities (1899)

The ethics of the wild beast, the survival of the strongest, shrewdest, and meanest, have been the inspiration of our materialistic lives during the last quarter or half century. The fact in our national history has brought us today face to face with the inevitable result. We have cities in which a few are wealthy, a few are in what may be called comfortable circumstances, vast numbers are propertyless, and thousands are in pauperism and crime. Certainly, no reasonable person will contend that this is the goal that we have been struggling for; that the inequalities that characterize our rich and poor represent the idea that the founders of this republic saw when they wrote that "All men are created equal."

The new patriotism is the love of the millions that is already planning for and opening the way to better things, to a condition of life under this government when every child born in it will have an equal opportunity with every other child to live the best possible kind of life that he or she can live. This is the new patriotism - that feeling within one's breast that tells us that there can be no prosperity for some without there is a possibility for some prosperity for all, and that there can be no peace for some without opportunity for some peace for all; that man is a social being, society is a unit, an organism, not a heap of separate grains of sand, each one struggling for its own welfare. We are all so inextricably bound together that there is no possibility of finding the individual good except in the good of all.

The competitive idea at present dominant is most of our political and business life is, of course, the seed root of all the trouble. The people are beginning to understand that we have been pursuing a policy of plundering ourselves, that in the foolish scramble to make individuals rich we have been making all poor. "For a hundred years or so," says Henry Demarest Lloyd, "our economic theory has been one of industrial government by the self-interest of the individual; political government by the self-interest of the individual we call anarchy." It is one of the paradoxes of public opinion that the people of America, least tolerant of this theory of anarchy in political government, lead in practicing it in industry. We are coming to see that the true philosophy of government is to let the individual do what the individual can do best, and let the government do what the government can do best.

Our cities are to be saved by the development of the collective idea. We are coming to understand that every public utility and necessity to the public welfare should be publicly owned, publicly operated, and publicly paid for. Among the properties that according to any scientific conception of the purpose of government should be so owned are waterworks, heating and lighting plants, street railways, telephones, fire alarms, telegraphs, parks, playgrounds, baths, wash-houses, municipal printing establishments, and many other industries necessary to the welfare of the whole family that can only be successfully operated by the family in the interests of the whole family.

(8) The Supreme Court judge, David Brewer, was one of the country's leading opponents of socialism. This was reflected in his speech to the New York State Bar Association in January, 1893.

It is the unvarying law that the wealth of a community will be in the hands of a few; and the greater the general wealth, the greater the individual accumulations. The large majority of men are unwilling to endure the long self-denial and saving which makes accumulation possible; they have not the business tact and sagacity which brings about large combinations and great financial results; and hence it always has been, and until human nature is remodeled always will be, true that the wealth of a nation is in the hands of a few, while the many subsist upon the proceeds of their daily toil. But security is the chief end of government; and other things being equal, that government is best which protects to the fullest extent each individual, rich or poor, high or low, in the possession of his property and the pursuit of his business.

It was the boast of our ancestors in the Old Country that they were able to wrest from the power of the king so much security for life, liberty and property. Here, there is no monarch threatening trespass upon the individual. The danger is from the multitudes - the majority, with whom is the power. The common rule as to strikes is this: Not merely do the employees quit the employment, and thus handicap the employer in the use of his property, and perhaps in the discharge of duties which he owes to the public; but they also forcibly prevent others from taking their places.

(9) Florence Kelley, letter to Friedrich Engels about her success in converted people to socialism (27th November, 1892)

The increased discussion of socialism here is very marked, though the study of books and requests for lectures come almost exclusively from people of the prosperous middle classes. Thus I have been asked to speak twice before the Secular Union and five times in churches in Chicago and its suburbs, and the more radically I speak the more vigorous the discussion in all these meetings.

(10) Mark Hanna, Socialism and the Labour Unions (1904)

The menace of today, as I view it, is the spread of a spirit of socialism, one of those things which is only half understood and is more or less used to inflame the popular mind against all individual initiative and personal energy, which has been the very essence of American progress. While this spirit of socialism has caused apprehension in some quarters, it has been joyfully received by a certain class of people who do not desire to acquire competence in the ordinary and honest manner and gladly seize any excuse for agitating the public mind on the chance of putting money in their own pockets.

(11) Charles Edward Russell, Why I am a Socialist (1910)

Suppose each of the stockholders of the United States Steel Corporation to be a most kind-hearted, compassionate man. If you could by any means make him understand the hell that this company maintains, he would be powerless to change it. Let the officers be wholly unselfish philanthropists, and they shall be equally impotent. Let the managers be moved to tears by every accident, they can do nothing that shall prevent accidents. The whole organization is utterly impersonal; it is hard, mechanical, inhuman, relentless, and must be so, and cannot possibly be otherwise. To make profits, to declare dividends, to meet the interest on the outstanding securities, to produce steel, to produce it with the least possible expenditure of money: these are the only considerations that can be entertained everywhere, at any time, by any person in the organization.

Little children in the process of being first robbed and then murdered in the sacred cause of profits. If you like the system of which this is the certain fruit, come here and like the fruit also. You should not like the one without the other. And if you accept both, let me ask you one question. How if this robbed and tortured child were your daughter, or your little sister? How would you like that? And if it would be bad for your daughter, or your sister, do you think it can be good for another man's daughter and another man's sister?

This is the offer of Socialism: the righting of the centuries of wrong the producers have suffered, the dawn of a genuine democracy, peace instead of war, sufficiency instead of suffering, life raised above the level of appetite, a chance at last for the good in people to attain their normal development.

(12) Eugene Debs was the Socialist Party candidate for president in 1912. He wrote about his views in the article Why You Should Vote for Socialism (31st August, 1912)

You must either vote for or against your own material interests as a wealth producer; there is no political purgatory in this nation of ours, despite the desperate efforts of so-called Progressive capitalists politicians to establish one. socialism alone represents the material heaven of plenty for those who toil and the Socialist Party alone offers the political means for attaining that heaven of economic plenty which the toil of the workers of the world provides in unceasing and measureless flow.

Capitalism represents the material hell of want and pinching poverty of degradation and prostitution for those who toil and in which you now exist, and each and every political party, other than the Socialist Party, stands for the perpetuation of the economic hell of capitalism.

For the first time in all history you who toil possess the power to peacefully better your own condition. The little slip of paper which you hold in your hand on election day is more potent than all the armies of all the kings of earth.

(13) Socialist Party of America leaflet, The Gold Brick Twins (1916)

The Democratic platform does not differ from the Republican platform fundamentally at all. Of course, the Democratic convention was held a week later than the Republican, and this gave the Democrats a chance to see what the Republicans had done. Naturally they decided to go the Republicans one better in bidding for the labor vote. Like the Republican Party, the Democratic Party stands for the interests of the capitalist class, and it will do just as little for the working class as it can and get by. The labor planks were frightened out of the Democratic Party by the rising Socialist vote. Therefore the Socialist Party, not the Democratic Party, is entitled to the credit for them.

They also straddle the suffrage question, leaving it to the states. Like the Republicans, they dodged this issue altogether until it became popular.

These scanty labor and suffrage planks are minor matters to the Democratic Party. Their purpose is merely to catch votes.

The great body of the platform is devoted to boasting about the alleged achievements of the Democratic administration, and boosting for nationalism, so-called preparedness, and foreign markets.

The platform says that the life, health, and strength of the men, women, and children of the nation are its greatest asset.

This is true.

If the platform stood for principles which would give the utmost life, health, and strength to the men, women, and children of the nation, it would be all right.

But it does not.

On the contrary, after boasting about the achievements of the administration - of which all the good ones were frightened

out of it by the rising Socialist vote - they proceed to say that they must now remove, as far as possible, every remaining element of unrest and uncertainty from the path of the business of America and secure for them a continued period of quiet, assured, and confident prosperity.

Do you get that?

If the Democratic Party had ever been anything else than a political representative of capitalism, one could say that this plank is a complete surrender to the capitalist class. But how can a party surrender to those who already own and control it?

This plank merely shows distinctly who does own and control the party. It shows that the party is body and soul the property of the capitalist class. It stands for the continuation of capitalism, with its long and hideous train of woes.

In order to abolish evils, it is entirely necessary to cause unrest and uncertainty among the big businessmen who profit by the continuance of these evils.

But the Democratic Party says we must not disturb their serenity. In other words, it stands for the continuation of the great existing social evils.

The Republican and Democratic platforms are more remarkable for what they do not say than for what they do say.

The Republicans and Democrats are fully aware of the fact that hundreds of Americans die of starvation each year. They know that millions of Americans are underfed all the time. They know that hundreds of thousands of Americans are compelled to accept degrading charity. They know that every little while millions of Americans tramp the streets in a vain attempt to find an opportunity to earn a living. They know that thousands of Americans are killed and hundreds of thousands injured by preventable accidents. They know that thousands of Americans are driven to suicide. They know that thousands of Americans are driven to insanity. They know that hundreds of thousands of Americans are driven to crime. They know that hundreds of thousands of American women and girls are driven to prostitution. They know that the masses of the American people are in poverty. They know that the masses of the people are compelled to starve themselves mentally, morally, and spiritually in order to keep from starving physically. They know that the private ownership of the industries enables a comparatively few capitalists to get for themselves the bulk of the earnings of the rest of the people.

(14) Agnes Smedley, Daughters of the Earth, (1929)

About me at that time (1916) were small Socialist groups who knew little more than I did. We often met in a little dark room to discuss the war and to study various problems and Socialist ideas. The room was over a pool room and led into a larger square room with a splintery floor; in the, corner stood a sad looking piano. In the little hall leading to it was a rack holding various Socialist or radical newspapers, tracts, and pamphlets in very small print and on very bad paper. The subjects treated were technical Marxist theories. Now and then some Party member would announce a study circle, and I would join it, along with some ten or twelve working men and women.

I joined another circle and the leader gave us a little leaflet in very small print, asking us to read it carefully and then come prepared to ask questions. It was a technical Marxist subject and I did not understand it nor did I know what questions to ask.

Once or twice a month our Socialist local would announce a dance and try to draw young workers into it. Twenty or thirty of us would gather in the square, dingy room with splintery floor. The Socialist lawyer of the city came, with his wife and daughter. They were very intelligent and kindly people upon whose shoulders most of the Socialist work in town rested. The wife had baked a cake for the occasion and her daughter, a student, played a cornet. While the piano rattled away and the cornet blared, we circled about the room, trying to be gay.

(15) Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States (1980)

Eugene Debs had become a Socialist while in jail in the Pullman strike. Now he was the spokesman of a party that made him its presidential candidate five times. The party at one time had 100,000 members, and 1,200 office holders in 340 municipalities. Its main newspaper, Appeal to Reason, for which Debs wrote, had half a million subscribers, and there were many other Socialist newspapers around the country, so that, all together, perhaps a million people read the Socialist press.

Socialism moved out of the small circles of city immigrants - Jewish and German socialists speaking their own languages - and became American. The strongest Socialist state organization was in Oklahoma, which in 1914 had twelve thousand dues-paying members (more than New York State), and elected over a hundred Socialists to local office, including six to the Oklahoma state legislature. There were fifty-five weekly Socialist newspapers in Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and summer encampments that drew thousands of people.

In 1910, Victor Berger became the first member of the Socialist party elected to Congress; in 1911, seventy-three Socialist mayors were elected, and twelve hundred lesser officials in 340 cities and towns. The press spoke of "The Rising Tide of Socialism."

A privately circulated memorandum suggested to one of the departments of the National Civic Federation: "In view of the rapid spread in the United States of socialistic doctrines," what was needed was "a carefully planned and wisely directed effort to instruct public opinion as to the real meaning of socialism." The memorandum suggested that the campaign "must be very skillfully and tactfully carried out," that it "should not violently attack socialism and anarchism as such" but should be "patient and persuasive" and defend three ideas: "individual liberty; private property; and inviolability of contract."

(16) James Green, Grassroots Socialism (1978)

The Socialist movement was painstakingly organized by scores of former Populists, militant miners, and blacklisted railroad workers, who were assisted by a remarkable cadre of professional agitators and educators and inspired by occasional visits from national figures like Eugene V. Debs and Mother Jones. This core of organizers grew to include indigenous dissenters. A much larger group of amateur agitators who canvassed the region selling newspapers. forming reading groups, organizing locals, and making smallpox speeches.

(17) Norman Thomas, The Profit System and Unemployment, The Unemployed (December, 1930)

Power driven machinery makes it possible to support great populations in plenty. It has changed the basis of our civilization from one of enforced frugality to abundance. In spite of its mismanagement it has shortened hours and in many cases lightened the burden of monotonous and back-breaking toil. Yet under the the profit system the story of the progress of machinery is literally written in tears and blood. And for every advance step in technological progress the under dog has paid in the loss of his job.

This is true because we have never asked: how can we use machinery to provide more abundant goods and increase leisure for everybody? Instead the profit seeking owners of factories have said: how can we increase profits? It is easy to how that in the long run machinery by making it possible to have more things makes possible more jobs as well as shorter hours of labor. But men eat in the short run, and in the short run the boss introduces a new machine in the hope of making an immediately greater profit, which profit is very often realized only by cutting down his payroll. The employer who does this is not a villain. Under the profit system his business is to make profit. He can't help it if that means giving some men the bitter leisure of unemployment and speeding up others.

Only planned production for use, the abolition of parasitic ownership and the increase of spending power in the hands of the masses of the workers will end unemployment. I do not say that this way to end unemployment is easy. In the long run it will have to take account of the whole world and not merely just the United States. The final answer to unemployment and to poverty is intelligent international Socialism. There is no other way. Immediate remedies for some of the suffering of unemployment will be good not only in themselves but because they help our progress toward this goal.

(18) Upton Sinclair, letter to Norman Thomas (25th September, 1951)

The American People will take Socialism, but they won't take the label. I certainly proved it in the case of EPIC. Running on the Socialist ticket I got 60,000 votes, and running on the slogan to 'End Poverty in California' I got 879,000. I think we simply have to recognize the fact that our enemies have succeeded in spreading the Big Lie. There is no use attacking it by a front attack, it is much better to out-flank them.