Sadly, Debs’ ideas and politics are seen as long gone but his principles still remain valid today. He wasn’t just a sincere anti-war activist but someone who understood capitalism only too well and who strived to abolish wage-slavery, not as Sanders does ie tinker with the system to humanise it. Debs realised capitalism has to go in its entirety.
The goal is not to create a socialist society for the working class but to encourage the working class to build socialism for itself. Using the words of Eugene Debs,
‘If you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of this capitalist wilderness, you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, someone else would lead you out.’
Debs’ The Appeal to Reason sold more than a million copies a week in the years before the First World War. At its peak in 1912, the radical, if still reformist, Socialist Party of the USA organised 118,000 individual members, published no less than 323 different publications with a combined readership of over two million, polled 900,000 votes in that year’s Presidential election, and elected 1,200 officeholders in 340 cities, including 79 mayors in 24 states. Morris Hillquit ran for Mayor of New York on an anti-war platform in August 1918, called for a negotiated peace, and polled 146,000 votes. Victor Berger was elected and re-elected to Congress.
Socialist opposition to the USA’s entry into the war in 1917 brought a torrent of repression. A total of 2,100 people were arrested and indicted for opposing the war, and over 1,000 convicted, with over 100 of them receiving prison terms of 10 years or more. Debs, the 64 year old party leader, was sentenced in 1918 to 10 years in jail, and was not released until 1921, long after the war was over. 17 Conscientious Objectors were sentenced to death, 142 to life in prison, and 345 to prison terms that averaged 16 years.
And for those who always seek to vote for the lesser evil whether it is Sanders or Clinton or as some believed Trump Debs said
> “I’d rather vote for something I want and not get it than vote for something I don’t want, and get it.”