‘Louis Duchez: A Tribute’ by Robert Johnstone Wheeler from International Socialist Review Vol. 12 No. 4. October, 1911.

Comrade Louis Duchez, a proletarian intellectual from the mines of Ohio; a poet, an organizer, a writer, and a revolutionary Socialist who played a leading role in our movement during his too short life, dying at just 27 in 1911.

‘Louis Duchez: A Tribute’ by Robert Johnstone Wheeler from International Socialist Review Vol. 12 No. 4. October, 1911.

THE Socialist Movement in America has lost a brilliant thinker and writer and the world of labor a noble and devoted worker. Louis Duchez is dead. His death occurred July 24, at his father’s home in East Palestine, Ohio. For several months back he had been ailing, but heroically he kept at his post, serving the cause he loved, until two weeks before his death he left New York and came home to die. The disease was perplexing to the doctors — some malignant growth in the throat, which developed suddenly and carried our loved comrade away in a few minutes, Monday morning, July 24. He was conscious to the last and struggled hard to live. But death was stronger and at last, yielding to the inevitable, he died as he had lived, with a smile on his lips. His wife, father, mother, two brothers and five sisters survive to grieve over his early death.

A life finished at 27. A splendid proletarian scholar gone. A man marvelously gifted with intellectual powers lost to the working class. A great soul, radiant with love for humanity, faring forth and fading away into the great unknown, while the mighty movement for which he lived and died is surging forward.

Comrade Duchez was born in the little town of East Palestine. His mother is of Irish descent. His father, a native of France, was a soldier of that famous regiment which, called upon to fire upon the Communards, lined up for execution against the. wall of Mont Marche, threw down its guns and shouted: “Viva la Commune.” This act of heroism sent the regiment into exile in Morocco. After several years in Africa, Mr. Duchez escaped and came to America. In France, the Duchez family had possessions and prominence. But in America, the escaped exile was forced to work with his hands in order to live. He became a coal miner and still works in the mines.

Louis grew up in the little mining town. As the family was numerous, he was called upon in childhood to aid in its support. His opportunity for school education was limited. Yet, even though surrounded by a hard and unlovely environment, he early began to manifest aptitudes and talents beyond the ordinary. He was a strange child — an inveterate reader and student of books. Before he was twelve, he was delving into Darwin and Huxley and Wallace. A new strange book was a joy to him. At fifteen he was studying philosophy, and by the time he arrived at man’s estate, he had mastered history and the social sciences.

About this time the wanderlust that so oft calls youth, took hold of him and he joined the army. We were then engaged in “restoring order” in Cuba. In the army, Louis’ time was not wasted. He devoted himself to a study of law. Finishing that subject, he took up veterinary surgery, and qualified according to the army regulations. His studious habits and talent as a writer, soon attracted the attention of his officers. When a man was needed to aid in getting out a news- paper in Havana, Louis was chosen and was made city editor of the Havana News, which office he held until the army of occupation was withdrawn from Cuba.


Mustered out of the army, he determined to travel. After some time spent in Europe, he traveled over the United States. In Chicago he first met radical thinkers in groups. For a time, he was employed on the Chicago American, but his ideas were too advanced for that journal and he turned to “Tomorrow Magazine.” By this time his passion for study had carried him through the works of Marks and Engels, and other classical writers on scientific Socialism. He became an avowed Socialist and began to advocate Socialism in the “Tomorrow Magazine.” For several months he was the principal writer for “Tomorrow.” His writings during this period display a remarkable breadth of knowledge of science and a comprehensive grasp of the workings of society and its needs. Under the caption: “To-Day Versus Progress”, he wrote on Education, Philosophy, Socialism, The Press, Current Events and the Utility of Knowledge. With all socialists he believed that society is possessed of sufficient knowledge to permit of scientific organization of the production’ and distribution of wealth, that poverty with all its evils may be destroyed. He says:

“Western Civilization has reached a point where it must either apply verifiable scientific knowledge to the workings of society or relapse into another dark age. This the Twentieth Century will decide. Biologists have given us exact knowledge in regard to life; psychologists have given us scientific information with regard to the workings of the mind and sociologists have arrived at real knowledge in reference to society. Besides the study of chemistry, physics, astronomy, mathematics, zoology and botany have advanced accordingly, supporting these three cardinal branches of scientific learning.”

Then invention and discovery have made the world akin, forced machinery to duplicate the work of man a hundred times, and given us control over the animate and inanimate forces of nature. Yet standing at the very doorway of progress, ignorance, like some grim armed sentinel, bars the way and civilization halts and marks time. But truth is sure of victory. The question is asked: When? Out of the mouth of science comes the reply: “As soon as society learns to apply the knowledge I have given.” He felt that he was living on the edge of a great change. He rejoiced in life and the opportunities of his day. Again, he says: “Fortunate and happy, indeed, is the man living in this wonderful age and endowed with Cosmic Understanding, for he is privileged to take a look into all the mighty past and see from whence he came, and then, turning his face to the future, get a glimpse of the glories yet to be.”

He was a poet of rare power and feeling. In May, 1908, when the country was wrestling with the Wall Street Panic and the children of the working class suffering for the food and clothing piled up in the bursting storehouses of the owners, he wrote the “Warning of the Unemployed”:

“Masters and Rulers, take warning, we’re men; The blood in our veins came down from the past; We’ve hearts and they’re human, forgiving, but when, aroused to the limit, resist to the last.

“Your factories are idle, your larders are filled; The specters of panics stand not at your door; Great wheels wait our turning, broad lands to be tilled, and still, we are hungry, and idle, and poor.

“Tis not for charity, kings, that we ask; The mouths of our children indeed must be fed; But we, strong and willing, stand alert for the task, beware — we may eat o’er the bodies of dead.”

This poem was widely read and the menace which it voiced felt by the capitalist press. The Detroit Journal devoted two columns to a survey of the problem of the unfed masses and denounced the poet for daring to translate the feeling of the suffering ones into a threat against the ruling class.

In July of 1908, he wrote “The Superman.” This splendid poem shows Duchez at his best. The theme is Man, the Toiler, freed from the fetters of ignorance, superstition and fear; standing upon the threshold of the new era, with mind filled with knowledge, soul aflame with love and eyes beaming forth hope and the joy of life; and proclaiming that:

“The Superman is on his way, He comes Unled by armored knights or deafening drums; Unguided by the guesses of the past, His is a real gospel and will last.

“He does not hope to own the crown of kings; Nor does he care to wear celestial wings; He only asks that he may live and be; And build the Future on Fraternity.

“The road that he has traveled o’er is rough; The burdens he has borne were weight enough; Still, he comes though hard the way and long, to bring the joy of labor with its song.”

In September, 1908, I first met him. I was speaking in a little town in Ohio, near his home. When I stepped down from the box a young man came forward out of the crowd and grasped my hand. The vigor of his hand clasp, his intense manner of speech and the rare, beautiful smile that came so readily to his animated countenance as he talked to me, impressed me with the idea that here was a young man of more than ordinary power. A few days later I reached his town. He was waiting for me at the station and took me to his home. Two never to be forgotten days I spent with him. I searched through his large collection of books. I noted his careful system of study. The world’s great masters were his intimate friends. I marveled at his knowledge of science and history and literature. During the long hours I talked with him I was thrilled with his youthful enthusiasm and lofty idealism. I left him the next day, feeling that I had discovered a great man.

Shortly after, he joined the Socialist Party. But his keen working-class mind would not permit him to agree with the middle-class teachers who were then prominent. He saw that the Political Party alone was not sufficient. The workers must be organized in the industries. About this time the International Socialist Review was conducting a symposium on “Who Constitute the Proletariat.” Louis contributed “The Proletarian Viewpoint.” This article marked him as a thinker and writer and earned for him the enmity of the self-appointed leaders of the Party; an enmity which pursued him with ever increasing bitterness until his death. The “orthodox” in New York went so far as to formally try him for tactical “heresy.” Even the Socialist Party has its “Bigots” and the “Inquisition” awaits those who dare disagree with them.

But trials within nor strivings without could not daunt this man. Like all the truly great, he was persecuted because he was ahead of his time. Holding that the Political Party can never be more than an educational factor in the struggle in this country, he labored to build up the Industrial Union. No single individual in the Industrial Movement did as much as he to spread the propaganda. His name will ever be associated with the beginnings of Industrialism in America.

He spoke French, Italian and Spanish and translated readily from all three languages. The New York Call employed him be times to handle its foreign news. Much of his best writing was done for the Sunday Call, before he was censored. His writing in the Review attracted great attention and was translated into the leading European languages. He was a very prolific writer and left a mass of manuscript, prose and poetry, which friends will try to publish.

His private character was most admirable. He was absolutely free from any of the habits that stain the lives of men. There was no trace of grossness in his nature. During his entire life, in the mines, in the army or out in the world of struggle, he commanded the respect of his associates. A strict vegetarian in diet; a physical culturist; a trained athlete, he regarded his body as a store- house for energy needed by the mind. He was a type — a forerunner of the kind of man the future will breed and Science train.

In his home life he revealed his most charming traits. Tender and gentle and loving; soft voiced and equable of temperament; full of sunshine and joyousness — he was a most beautiful soul. His was a radiant life.

But now he has passed on and the movement he loved will miss him. Though his life was short in years, it was full and rich with deeds. The long rest came to him early. They bore him forth from his home and tenderly gave him back again to the Great Mother. And as her arms enfolded him, Comrade Gerrity, read Comrade Markham’s noble poem: “The Poet” and they left him sleeping.

Only yesterday I stood beside his quiet resting place — I who loved him so well. And sadness, sorrow and a sense of loss oppressed me. Then it seemed as though from out of the quietude he spoke and said as often before he had said to me, “Comrade, some may fall by the way, but the Cause moves grandly on.” Yes, the Cause lives and calls loudly for workers.

So, we leave thee Friend, Brother, Comrade; leave thee resting. We shall not lament thee. We shall rather joy in that we held companionship with thee for a little time. Our labor for the Cause shall be greater and our love for our fellows deeper because of thee. And when the last battle has been fought and paens of victory are being sung, because Humanity has come to its own, then shall thy name gleam resplendent among those who live again in minds made better by their presence; in thoughts sublime that pierce the night, like stars, and with their mild persistence, urge men’s minds to loftier issues.

The International Socialist Review (ISR) was published monthly in Chicago from 1900 until 1918 by Charles H. Kerr and critically loyal to the Socialist Party of America. It is one of the essential publications in U.S. left history. During the editorship of A.M. Simons it was largely theoretical and moderate. In 1908, Charles H. Kerr took over as editor with strong influence from Mary E Marcy. The magazine became the foremost proponent of the SP’s left wing growing to tens of thousands of subscribers. It remained revolutionary in outlook and anti-militarist during World War One. It liberally used photographs and images, with news, theory, arts and organizing in its pages. It articles, reports and essays are an invaluable record of the U.S. class struggle and the development of Marxism in the decades before the Soviet experience. It was closed down in government repression in 1918.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/isr/v12n04-oct-1911-ISR-riaz-ocr.pdf

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