Early American Marxism: Document Download Page by Year: 1897

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Declaration of Principles of The Social Democracy of America: Adopted at the Special Convention Held Under the Auspices of the American Railway Union, June 15-21, 1897.” On June 15, 1897, a final convention of Eugene Debs’ American Railway Union was convened in Chicago, where it spent three days wrapping up the affairs of the union. On Friday, June 18, the organization officially changed its name to The Social Democracy in America and the convention threw open its doors to delegates from other organizations. This Declaration of Principles was adopted by the new organization. The document asserts that “our despotic system of economics is the direct opposite of our democratic system of politics” and urges “all honest citizens to unite under the banner of the Social Democracy of America, so that we may be ready to conquer capitalism by making use of our political liberty and by taking possession of the public power, so that we may put an end to the present barbarous struggle, by the abolition of capitalism, the restoration of the land, and of all the means of production, transportation, and distribution, to the people as a collective body, and the substitution of the cooperative commonwealth for the present state of planless production, industrial war, and social disorder.” Eight “specific demands for relief” are appended, including demands for nationalization of monopolies, public utilities, mines and mineral resources, reduction of hours of labor, inauguration of a system of public works for the unemployed, free use of inventions, establishment of postal savings banks, and adoption of the initiative and referendum.


Milwaukee Enthused: Debs Speaks to Tremendous Meetings in the Cream City.” [July 15, 1897] Unsigned report from the official organ of the Social Democracy of America reporting an organizing speech by Executive Board Chairman Eugene Debs. Debs stated that there were two antithetical schools of economics long in conflict—individualists and collectivists. The former “claimed they had the right to live upon the toil of others,” while the latter “believed that ’the earth and the fullness thereof’ belonged to the people,” Debs told the enthusiastic throng assembled July 7 at West Side Turner Hall in Milwaukee. As a result of the hegemony of the economic individualists, unemployment and poverty was rampant and child labor scarred the land. Concentration of manufacturers into trusts drove down wages, further impoverishing the working people, Debs noted. The competitive system was “abnormal” in that it produced “millionaires and millions of mendicants” and perversely paid the hardest workers the least. The Social Democracy was launched to change this capitalist system and “achieve the Cooperative Commonwealth, where men would stand shoulder to shoulder for the uplifting of our common humanity.” Debs also explained the Social Democracy’s colonization strategy—”to go to some state sparsely settled, which has been favored by nature, and there mass sufficient people to get control of the state government.” Legal means were to be used and the colonization plan was conceived as a temporary measure until the Cooperative Commonwealth was achieved.



“A Call to the People,” by Eugene V. Debs [Aug. 23, 1897] In the midst of a bitter coal mine strike, Eugene Debs issued this appeal on the front page of the official organ of the Social Democracy of America lending his support to an August 30 conclave in St. Louis in support of the miners’ job action. Debs calls for an end to “cowardly, brutal, and wholly un-American reign of injunctional government.” He states that “There is no relief in the courts. We have tried them all, from the bottom to the top, and they are all against labor. So far as I am a concerned we will appeal no more. We will now appeal to the American people.” Debs notes the one-sided way in which law enforcement authorities “proceed to shoot and club workingmen if they are not as servile and obedient as if they were so many savages off their reservation.” He adds that “Injunctions, soldiers, marshals, deputies, thugs, and jails are for the exclusive benefit of the workingmen.” Summoning the specter of 1776, Debs declares that “Judges by the usurpation of power, playing the role of tyrants, have annihilated the constitution, abrogated the right of trial by jury, forbidden free speech, suppressed peaceable assemblage, and transformed our republic into an absolute despotism. They are guilty of judicial treason and should be made to answer at the bar of an outraged people.”


“To the Hosts of the Social Democracy of America. [Labor Day Message—1897]” by Eugene V. Debs [Aug. 30, 1897] The purple prose of Eugene Debs runneth over in this somewhat lengthy Labor Day essay to Labor and the members of the newly organized Social Democracy of America, published in the pages of the SDA’s official organ. Debs declares the situation of labor gloomy—impoverished and denied their rights of free speech and free assembly by the injunctions of a judiciary at the beck and call of a heartless and soulless plutocracy. Yet there is hope on this Labor Day, Debs declares amidst heavy Christian overtones: “In this supreme hour, when hope is giving way to despair, and stout-hearted men are yielding to what they term the ’decree of fate,’ the star of the Social Democracy, like that which the wise men saw when Christ was born, blazes above the horizon and hope revives and again is heard by ears attuned to the minstrelsy of humanity, ’Peace on earth, goodwill toward men.’” Debs states that “The Social Democracy deals with the possible, with the practical, with axiomatic propositions in the everyday affairs of life,” and then ushers forth a 230 word sentence poetically glorifying the new political organization that would have reduced William Faulkner to astonished genuflection.



“The Social Democracy,” by Cyrus Field Willard. A fascinating article, essentially the “missing link” between Eugene V. Debs’ American Railway Union and Julius A. Wayland’s Ruskin Colony in Tennessee. Williard, one of the three members of the Colonization Commission of the Social Democracy of America (formed by the final national convention of the ARU) talks about the plans of that body to establish a socialist colony in Tennessee and a proposal to the city of Nashville to construct 75 miles of railway for the city—a project which would put the (blacklisted) unemployed workers of the ARU/Social Democracy of America to work and help advance the cause of collective ownership in a single stroke. First published in the November 1897 issue of The New Time, published by Charles H. Kerr & Co.