Eugene Debs

eugene debs

There is so much forgotten history in the US. Like Eugene Debs, who ran for president as a socialist in 1920 from prison and got almost a million votes.

He was a labor organizer, and so active in the Pullman Strike of 1896 that it became known as “Deb’s Rebellion.” The government sent in troops, 13 strikers were killed, and Debs was arrested.

Debs was represented by Clarence Darrow, hitherto a corporate lawyer for the railroad company, who “switched sides” to represent Debs. Darrow, a leading American lawyer and civil libertarian, had resigned his corporate position in order to represent Debs, making a substantial financial sacrifice in order to do so.

While jailed during this he became socialist after reading Marx. He soon co-founded the IWW (Wobblies) as well as the Socialist Democratic Party.

He ran for president as a socialist a number of times. In 1912 he got 6% of the vote, still a record for a socialist candidate. He was imprisoned for urging men not to fight in World War I and received almost a million votes while in his prison cell.

At his sentencing he said

Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.

Incoming president Warren Harding pardoned him in 1920. He died seven years later.


Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization. Progress is born of agitation. It is agitation or stagnation.

Years ago I declared that there was only one war in which I would enlist and that was the war of the workers of the world against the exploiters of the world.

They have always taught and trained you to believe it to be your patriotic duty to go to war and to have yourselves slaughtered at their command. But in all the history of the world you, the people, have never had a voice in declaring war, and strange as it certainly appears, no war by any nation in any age has ever been declared by the people.

When great changes occur in history, when great principles are involved, as a rule the majority are wrong.

Those who produce should have, but we know that those who produce the most – that is, those who work hardest, and at the most difficult and most menial tasks, have the least.

Eugene V Debs Foundation