‘Hold Your Nerve’ by Eugene V. Debs from Appeal to Reason (Girard). No. 590. March 23, 1907.
To join the Socialist movement implies a declaration of war. War on the capitalist system and all its profit-fed institutions!
To issue such a declaration requires some measure of moral courage; to make it good requires a vast deal more.
Many a convert joins with enthusiasm to be extinguished a few months later in ignominy.
He lacks the nerve to stand his ground.
Many another joins the movement and grows stronger from the hour the battle begins; the more he is resisted the stauncher he stands; the more he is persecuted the more resolute he becomes, and in the storm of battle all the heroic fibre within him becomes steel and he rises to the stature of a full-grown man who has the strength to stand alone though all the world turn against him.
He has the nerve!
This is the secret of real heroism.
In writing this brief article on the subject of nerve, we have in mind a large number of Socialists and semi-Socialists who are more or less anxious to serve the movement, but who are so easily deflected from their purpose. They happen to hear of an uncomplimentary remark directed against them, and it strikes at the very heart of their allegiance to the cause. They hear of some temporary defeat of the party, or of some friction within the ranks, and they are at once discouraged.
The trouble is with their nerve. It is this that should have their immediate attention. The comrade lacking nerve, or having but a weak support of himself, will be kept in very hot water in the Socialist movement.
As previously stated, the man who joins the Socialist movement declares war against the capitalist system and capitalist society, and war of this kind is not a May festival. Ferdinand Lassalle, the brilliant social revolutionist, once said that the war against capitalism was not a rosewater affair. He was right. It is rather of the storm and tempest order. All kinds of attacks must be expected, and all kinds of wounds will be inflicted. The new comrade of tender sensibilities will soon get used to having his feelings torn and lacerated if he remains in the movement.
Many honest and well-meaning persons have been completely driven out of the movement because they could not stand the metaphorical shot and shell that were crashing about their heads.
Their hearts were right, but they lacked the nerve.
A fatal defect!
No matter what other good qualities a convert to Socialism may have, he must have the nerve to stick, the nerve to stay, if he is to be of any value to the movement. He must make up his mind that all the trials to which mortal man is subject will fall to his lot one after the other, and that if he lacks the nerve the weak spot in him will sooner or later be put to the test and he will go down and out, never to rise again.
But it is this very trial that serves a most beneficent purpose for both the individual and the movement; it eliminates the weak and unfit, and tempers those qualified for the higher service to which they are sure to be called, because they have the nerve and can stand the test.
It is therefore very essential that he whose conviction it is that Socialism is right, and whose sense or duty impels him to do battle for it, shall make sure that his nerve is equal to the test when it comes, for come it will, not once, but with frequent and increasing severity to every man and woman in the movement.
It is well for a member to be sensitive about his honor, but he must not permit his lack of nerve, coupled with his super-sensitiveness, to drive him out of the movement when he learns from others that he has joined it to promote his own individual and selfish ends.
He or she who declares war on capitalism by joining the Socialist party must make up his or her mind to tramp as thorny a pathway as led to Calvary, provided, of course, every duty such a course imposes is fearlessly met and every obligation faithfully discharged. Every Socialist who has proved his right to a place in the ranks can verify this fact by his own personal experience.
When you part company, so to speak, with capitalist society, when the war actually begins, the war of the revolution in which there can be no compromise, you will be driven back in humiliation and defeat unless you have the nerve to bear all the wounds that are sure to be inflicted.
You will be told that you joined the movement to seek notoriety, or because you have always been a failure, or a mischievous agitator; that you never had an honest motive, that you want to make money out of Socialism; that you are not sound, that you are only half-baked, and a hundred other things; you will be assailed within and without, spat upon by the very ones you are doing your very best to serve, and at certain crucial moments find yourself isolated, absolutely alone, as if to compel your surrender, but in those very moments, if you have the nerve, you become supreme, and instead of abjectly capitulating, you feel within yourself the thrill of new-born powers of which you never dreamed, and you realize for the first time the ecstacy of man’s greatest victory-the victory over self.
Nerve is necessary to such an enviable achievement. Some men are dowered with this quality, others lack it, but the weakest may cultivate it. So highly can this quality be developed that the human being may become absolutely impervious to dread and fear, to the weaknesses of the flesh, and walk among men almost as if he were a god.
The war we are waging, be it ever remembered, is not for brutal conquest, not for empty glory, but for the peace and happiness and civilization of the whole human race.
It is the grandest war in all the annals of mankind.
It will require the bravest warriors that ever gave up their lives upon the field of battle.
And they will be known as the world’s greatest heroes and rest in the blessings of a thousand generations yet unborn.
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.
PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/appeal-to-reason/070323-appealtoreason-w590.pdf