Early American Marxism: Document Download Page by Year: 1890

Document Download Page for the Year




“What Can We Do for Working People?” by Eugene V. Debs [April 1890] Early unsigned article attributed to Debs from the magazine of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen. Debs likens the “labor market” to the market for slaves in days past. Whereas the solution to chattel slavery was clear, the prescription for the new condition had escaped many. Neither philanthropy nor instructing the working class on the spartan living held the key to the wretched state of the working class, Debs argued, calling such paternalism “disgusting and degrading to the last degree.” Rather, the key lay in the united action of the majority working class themselves: “Workingmen can organize. Workingmen can combine, federate, unify, cooperate, harmonize, act in concert. This done, workingmen could control governmental affairs. They could elect honest men to office. They could make wise constitutions, enact just laws, and repeal vicious laws. By acting together they could overthrow monopolies and trusts. They could squeeze the water out of stocks, and decree that dividends shall be declared only upon cash investments. They could make the cornering of food products of the country a crime, and send the scoundrels guilty of the crime to the penitentiary. Such things are not vagaries. They are not Utopian dreams.”



“Agitation and Agitators,” by Eugene V. Debs [August 1890] Early unsigned article by Debs from the pages of The Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine. Brushing aside attacks on so-called “labor agitators,” Debs observes that “all explorers, pathfinders, in religion, morals, science, government, geography, in any and every department of human affairs, are agitators. They are seldom or never popular in the beginning of their labors. Their fate, as a rule, is to suffer derision, contumely, neglect, and poverty, often penalties still more severe; the exception only vindicates the rule.” The mission of the “labor agitator,” he says, “is first to persuade workingmen to organize - to get together for the purpose of the interchange of ideas relating to their pecuniary warfare.... Without organization the so-called ’labor market’ is established as it was in the days of chattel slavery, when there were slave auction blocks and slave pens, and labor was a ’commodity.’” Despite the efforts of the “monopolistic, subsidized press” to “inoculate” the public mind with the false ideas of the luxuriant-living, “the scepter is falling from the hands of labor autocrats. From the untold millions of wealth which labor creates the time is coming when a just distribution will be ordered.”


“Powderly and Gompers,” by Eugene V. Debs [August 1890] Early unsigned article by Debs from the pages of The Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine. Gene Debs weighs in on the bitter feud between the Knights of Labor, headed by Terence Powderly, and the American Federation of Labor, headed by Samuel Gompers. While both are “men of ability and acknowledged leaders,” Debs notes, “the demand of the times is to harmonize and unify workingmen, but the fight between Messrs. Powderly and Gompers will not have that effect. It will breed discord, asperities, and enmities. Two great labor organizations at war will be accepted by the foes of labor as proof positive that workingmen cannot pull together.” Debs encourages the two organizations to “get together and adjust their difficulties, since the continuance of the internecine conflict cannot possibly benefit anyone except those who pray ceaselessly for the overthrow of organized labor.”