‘Working Class Politics; a Speech by Debs at Riverview Park, Chicago’ by William Cherney from The International Socialist Review. Vol. 11 No. 5. November, 1910.

Marvelous report of Comrade Debs’ September 18, 1910 barn-burner speech at a rally of Chicago Socialists by William Cherney.

‘Working Class Politics; a Speech by Debs at Riverview Park, Chicago’ by William Cherney from The International Socialist Review. Vol. 11 No. 5. November, 1910.

THE campaign of the Socialist party of Cook county, Illinois, was formally opened on September 18th, Eugene V. Debs being the principal speaker. A vast concourse of people were assembled at Riverview Park where the meeting took place. Below will be found some extracts from the speech of Debs, in which he emphasized the necessity of industrial unity as the only means of effective political action. Said Debs:

“We live in the capitalist system, so-called because it is dominated by the capitalist class. In this system the capitalists are the rulers and the workers the subjects. The capitalists are in a decided minority and yet they rule because of the ignorance of the working class.

“So long as the workers are divided, economically and politically, they will remain in subjection, exploited of what they produce, and treated with contempt by the parasites who live out of their labor.

“The economic unity of the workers must first be effected before there can be any progress toward emancipation. The interests of the millions of wage workers are identical, regardless of nationality, creed, or sex, and if they will only open their eyes to this simple, self-evident fact, the greatest obstacle will have been overcome and the day of victory will draw near.

“The primary need of the workers is industrial unity and by this I mean their organization in the industries in which they are employed as a whole instead of being separated into more or less impotent unions according to their crafts. Industrial unionism is the only effective means of economic organization and the quicker the workers realize this and unite within one compact body for the good of all, the sooner will they cease to be the victims of ward-heeling labor politicians and accomplish something of actual benefit to themselves and those dependent upon them. In Chicago where the labor grafters, posing as union leaders, have so long been permitted to thrive in their iniquity, there is especially urgent need of industrial unionism, and when this is fairly under way it will express itself politically in a class conscious vote of and for the working class.

“So long as the workers are content with conditions as they are, so long as they are satisfied to belong to a craft union under the leadership of those who are far more interested in drawing their own salaries and feathering their own nests with graft than in the welfare of their followers, so long, in a word, as the workers are meek and submissive followers, mere sheep, they will be fleeced, and no one will hold them in greater contempt than the very grafters and parasites who fatten out of their misery.

“It is not Gompers, who banquets with Belmont and Carnegie, and Mitchell, who is paid and pampered by the plutocrats, who are going to unite the workers in their struggle for emancipation. The Civic Federation, which was organized by the master class and consists of plutocrats, politicians, and priests, in connivance with so-called labor leaders, who are used as decoys to give that body the outward appearance of representing both capital and labor, is the staunch supporter of trade unions and the implacable foe of industrial unionism and Socialism, and this in itself should be sufficient to convince every intelligent worker that the trade union under its present leadership and, as now used, is more beneficial to the capitalist class than it is to the workers, seeing that it is the means of keeping them disunited and pitted against each other, and as an inevitable result, in wage slavery.

“The workers themselves must take the initiative in uniting their forces for effective economic and political action; the leaders will never do it for them. They must no longer suffer themselves to be deceived by the specious arguments of their betrayers, who blatantly boast of their unionism that they may traffic in it and sell out the dupes who blindly follow them. I have very little use for labor leaders in general and none at all for the kind who feel their self-importance and are so impressed by their own wisdom that where they lead their dupes are expected to blindly follow without a question. Such “leaders” lead their victims to the shambles and deliver them over for a consideration and this is possible only among craft-divided wage-slaves who are kept apart for the very purpose that they may feel their economic helplessness and rely upon some “leader” to do something for them.

“Economic unity will be speedily followed by political unity. The workers once united in one great industrial union will vote a united working class ticket. Not only this, but only when they are so united can they fit themselves to take control of industry when the change comes from wage-slavery to economic freedom. It is precisely because it is the mission of industrial unionism to unite the workers in harmonious cooperation in the industries in which they are employed, and by their enlightened inter-dependence and self-imposed discipline prepare them for industrial mastery and self-control when the hour strikes, thereby backing up with their economic power the verdict they render at the ballot box, it is precisely because of this fact that every Socialist, every class-conscious worker should be an industrial unionist and strive by all the means at his command to unify the workers in the all-embracing bonds of industrial unionism.

“The Socialist Party is the party of the workers, organized to express in political terms their determination to break their fetters and rise to the dignity of free men. In this party the workers must unite and develop their political power to conquer and abolish the capitalist political state and clear the way for industrial and social democracy.

“But the new order can never be established by mere votes alone. This must be the result of industrial development and intelligent economic and political organization, necessitating both the industrial union and the political party of the workers to achieve their emancipation.

“In this work, to be successfully accomplished, woman must have an equal part with man. If the revolutionary movement of the workers stands for anything it stands for the absolute equality of the sexes and when this fact is fully realized and the working woman takes her place side by side with the working man all along the battlefront the great struggle will soon be crowned with victory.”


“Truth from his lips prevailed with double sway, And fools who came to scoff, remained to pray.”

“A man cannot help being deeply impressed by what he says. He seems to speak direct from his heart.”

This was a part of a conversation over-heard at the outskirts of the large crowd at Riverview Park, Sunday, Sept. 18. while the thundering applause and cheers split the air and re-echoed on every side, as the last words of the address left the speaker’s lips.

Of course it was Debs. “Our Gene.” as we call him. No other man could have such a magnetic influence on the thousands of workingmen and women as had gathered there to listen. It was a great speech. I knew it would be. When I met him at the hotel in the morning his smile seemed to show that he was at his best. Scarcely had we entered the room, and he had thrown aside his baggage, than he was full of enthusiasm about the rally.

“I tell you I am feeling fine to-day,” he said. “If I don’t make a good speech it is going to be my fault.” So we knew what to expect.

Yet as far as that goes, he is always jovial, and bubbling over with enthusiasm. Well along in years, he is as happy in the work he is doing as a school boy when he gets his diploma. Socialism is a serious thing with him. It is the only thing. Yet he always manages to keep everybody around in good humor by his brilliant witticisms and personal anecdotes.

When we left the downtown district in the afternoon he kept this up all the way. He was full of stories, and every now and then the Republican and Democratic parties would be the butt of the joke.

Of course he had to tell one on his own press agent, Brewer. “Whenever we leave for a trip,” said Debs, “my suit case is packed full and Brewer’s is almost empty. In a few days mine is empty and his is full. Of course this may be all right, but I notice that very often I cannot find my whiskbroom and such.”

We all laughed—even Brewer.

Then he spied a straw hat on the walk and calling attention to it exclaimed, “Now I won’t be lonesome.” We looked —he had one, too.

“Stop talking, Gene,” said Brewer. “You will be hoarse before we get to the park.” “Ah, go on, I am only practicing,” he replied with a smile, and kept on.

Such is the man. Elderly in years, yet young in spirit. Working all the time, too. Continually on a speaking tour, he brings the message of emancipation home to thousands of workingmen, and leaves them inspired and enthused.

Nothing daunts him. He is fearless as well as tireless. The master class, with its corrupt judges and politicians, hates him, and “we love him for the enemies he has made.”

The spirit of the man is clearly shown in a message that he gave us younger men here in Chicago. These are the words: “Let nothing that may arise from the earth, or fall from the skies, or be spewed from Hell, daunt or discourage you in the work which you are doing.”

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/v11n05-nov-1910-ISR-gog-Corn-OCR.pdf

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