‘In Whose War Shall I Fight?’ by Eugene V. Debs from Appeal to Reason. September 11, 1915.
Since my characterization of the soldier in the Jingo edition as “the hired assassin of his capitalist master” I have been asked if I was opposed to all war and if I would refuse to be a soldier and to fight under any circumstances, and to make my answer through the Appeal to Reason. No, I am not opposed to all war, nor am I opposed to fighting under all circumstances, and any declaration to the contrary would disqualify me as a revolutionist. When I say I am opposed to war I mean ruling class war, for the ruling class is the only class that makes war. It matters not to me whether this war be offensive or defensive, or what other lying excuse may be invented for it, I am opposed to it, and I would be shot for treason before I would enter such a war.
If I were in Congress I would be shot before I would vote a dollar for such a war.
Capitalist wars for capitalist conquest and capitalist plunder must be fought by the capitalists themselves so far as I am concerned, and upon that question there can be no misunderstanding as to my position.
I have no country to fight for; my country is the earth; and I am a citizen of the world.
I would not violate my principles for God, much less for a crazy kaiser, a savage czar, a degenerate king, or a band of pot-bellied parasites.
But while, I have not a drop of blood to shed for the oppressors of the working class and the robbers of the poor, the thieves and looters, the brigands and murderers, whose debauched misrule is the crime of the ages, I have a heart-full to shed for their victims when it shall be needed in the war for their liberation.
I am not a capitalist soldier; I am a proletarian revolutionist. I do not belong to the regular army of the plutocracy, but to the irregular army of the people. I refuse to obey any command to fight from the ruling class, but I will not wait to be commanded to fight for the working class.
I am opposed to every war but one; I am for that war with heart and soul, and that is the world-wide war of the social revolution. In that war I am prepared to fight in any way the ruling class may make it necessary, even to the barricades.
There is where I stand and where I believe the Socialist Party stands, or ought to stand, on the question of war.
The Appeal to Reason was among the most important and widely read left papers in the United States. With a weekly run of over 550,000 copies by 1910, it remains the largest socialist paper in US history. Founded by utopian socialist and Ruskin Colony leader Julius Wayland it was published privately in Girard, Kansas from 1895 until 1922. The paper came from the Midwestern populist tradition to become the leading national voice in support of the Socialist Party of America in 1901. A ‘popular’ paper, the Appeal was Eugene Debs main literary outlet and saw writings by Upton Sinclair, Jack London, Mary “Mother” Jones, Helen Keller and many others.