The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

100 Years Ago the Working Class Had Its Voice:
Eugene Debs

Mar 17, 2014

An election campaign, organized to put forward a program of struggle for the working class, is not new. But it has been over a century since a militant working class leader in the United States, Eugene V. Debs, who had led an important railroad strike, ran for president on the Socialist Party ticket in 1912 and received 900,000 votes. He did not expect to win, knowing then, just like today, that big money controls the outcome of elections in capitalist society. But he ran to let the voice of the working class be heard. “I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.”

Six years later, in 1918, he was put on trial for speaking out in favor of the workers’ revolution in Russia in 1917 and for having opposed the first big imperialist war, World War I. He was jailed in federal prison for presenting the working class viewpoint. But the fact that Debs and other militants like him raised these ideas was one of the things that helped pave the way for a massive strike wave in 1919 in the United States.

In 1920, while still in federal prison for his views, he ran for president again and garnered nearly a million votes. While in prison, of course he couldn’t lead a strike, he couldn’t be out in the streets addressing the workers. But others campaigned for him on the basis of what he was saying, and this allowed these ideas to circulate, to resonate throughout an important part of the working class.