The freedom call that Debs first heard as a union organizer, then a Socialist and a leader of his class, defined him to his final days. Written specially for the I.W.W.’s Industrial Pioneer in celebration of that organization’s twentieth May Day, comrade Debs words on the holiday would be among his last as he neared the end of his illustrious life in October, 1926.
‘May Day and the Working Class’ by Eugene V. Debs from The Industrial Pioneer. Vol. 3 No. 1. May, 1925.
THE request for an article from the editor of the Industrial Pioneer for the May Day issue comes at a time when I am so fully occupied with other matters that I can hardly hope to do justice to that publication, but I must, at least, do the best I can in the way of a May Day greeting to the Industrial Pioneer.
Before me as I write there lies a copy of the April issue of this working class publication, and I wish first of all to commend the editor and the organization it represents for the excellence of its contents. It is gotten up in most attractive form, printed on first class paper, is well illustrated pictorially, while its various departments are filled with articles of a wide scope by writers of the highest standing in the labor movement.
The Industrial Workers of the World, of which the Industrial Pioneer is an official publication, will soon have rounded twenty years of organized existence, and from beginning to end it has been a tempestuous period in the struggle of the American workers for industrial emancipation. No labor union in the entire history of the labor movement has been as shamelessly misrepresented, as relentlessly persecuted, as brutally attacked, and as savagely hunted down by the ruling class and its minions and mercenaries as the Industrial Workers of the World. During the recent international butchery when “patriotism” was the watchword on the lips of every traitor, coward and hireling, its offices were repeatedly raided, its books and other effects confiscated, its literature was destroyed, its meeting places mobbed, its workers assaulted, beaten up and jailed, and its organizers lynched and murdered in cold blood with the connivance of the public authorities and with the whole-hearted approval and applause of the bourgeois moron multitude.
But the organization still lives to celebrate May Day, 1925, and to marshal its forces for renewed attack upon the system which branded it as outlaw when itself was the criminal, the arch-criminal whose victims are to be found wherever workers toil and produce in servitude and are condemned to poverty and to die in despair.
As these lines are written the eight members of the Industrial Workers of the World serving life sentences at Walla Walla, Washington, for defending their hall at Centralia against an attack of American Legion hoodlums, cowards and cold-blooded murderers are vividly before me, and I wonder as I have wondered a thousand times before, why the American workers permit these eight honest, innocent workingmen, whose only crime was that they stood up like men in defense of the cause of labor at a time when it took heroic blood to do it — why the American movement tolerates the infinite outrage of these men rotting away in one of the vilest prison pens in the country.
Those eight I.W.W. convicts at Walla Walla are heroes in the true sense of the term, and I hail them as such at this May Day celebration, proud of their high courage and self-respect, and ashamed to be at large while they are in that foul dungeon branded as felons.
In celebrating May Day the workers would be unworthy of the day, they would be guilty of inexcusable neglect and of gross betrayal of their vaunted solidarity if they failed to remember the class-war prisoners in Washington, in California, in Idaho, in Kansas, in Texas, in Massachusetts and other states, to proclaim their innocence, to glorify their heroism, and to demand in a commanding and determined voice their liberation.
May Day ought to be a glorious day for all the workers of the world. It is their international holiday; their day of universal rejoicing; their day of hope and inspiration.
May Day as a holiday was not granted to them by their patronizing masters as a boon for slaves to be grateful for, but it was appropriated by themselves and dedicated to themselves as the day upon which to assemble their forces, to close up their ranks, to stand erect, shoulder to shoulder, to feel the touch and thrill and throb of proletarian solidarity; to take counsel of themselves; to take an inventory of their own mental, moral and spiritual as well as their physical resources; to recognize their common identity as wage slaves; to realize their class interests, their class aspirations, their class power and their class study; to draw the line sharply between their class, the toiling and producing millions, and the class of their exploiters and oppressors, and, face front, to wage the class struggle with unceasing energy, high resolve, and unrelaxing determination until the last citadel of capitalism has been captured and the workers of the world have made themselves the rulers of the world.
To this great end the workers must educate, organize and train themselves under their own self imposed discipline; they must, in a word, fit themselves for industrial mastery and for the fulfillment of their historic mission which means nothing less than the emancipation of the human race from ignorance, superstition and every form of servility and servitude.
May Day is the day for the proclamation V our clearest thoughts, our highest resolves, and our noblest aspirations.
Solidarity must ever be the battle cry of the workers in the face of all that is done by the ruling powers and their henchmen to prevent it.
The legislatures, the courts, the colleges, the newspapers, the churches: all the organized social forces and all the powers of government, aided and abetted by cowardly and treacherous labor leaders, so-called, are pitted in combination against the rising revolutionary movement of the working class in every capitalist nation on earth. But in spite of all this the movement is progressing steadily, increasing daily in numbers and in power, cultivating its capacity to think and act for itself, its self-respect and self-reliance, and marching bravely toward its goal.
Everything depends upon the thoroughgoing organization of the workers along industrial, political and co-operative lines, on the basis of the class struggle, and upon waging this struggle with increasing intelligence, intensity and determination through all the passing days and years.
There are numberless battles to be fought and many of them will be fierce enough to test us all in every fibre, but fortunately the movement we are fighting in and for is out of the depths, with the forces of evolution and revolution, of which it was born, sustaining it and pledged to its ultimate triumph, and though we may lose ten thousand battles we shall finally win the war for the liberation of the race.
The Industrial Pioneer was published monthly by Industrial Workers of the World’s General Executive Board in Chicago from 1921 to 1926 taking over from One Big Union Monthly when its editor, John Sandgren, was replaced for his anti-Communism, alienating the non-Communist majority of IWW. The Industrial Pioneer declined after the 1924 split in the IWW, in part over centralization and adherence to the Red International of Labour Unions (RILU) and ceased in 1926.
PDF of full issue (large cumulative file): https://archive.org/download/case_hd_8055_i4_r67_box_007/case_hd_8055_i4_r67_box_007.pdf