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You are here: The Platypus Affiliated Society/Would Eugene Debs support socialists running as Democrats? Sanders, Shachtmanism, and the death of the Debs legacy

Would Eugene Debs support socialists running as Democrats? Sanders, Shachtmanism, and the death of the Debs legacy

Reid Kane

Platypus Review 110 | October 2018

Debs the Democrat

AFTER RISING UP THE RANKS of the labor movement in the 1870s and 80s, Debs was courted by the Democratic Party of Indiana to run for state legislature in 1884, and handily won the election. Yet his career as a Democratic Party politician was short-lived. As Ray Ginger, in his biography of Debs, The Bending Cross, recounts,

When Debs was sworn into the state House of Representatives on January 8, 1885, he had already drafted a bill which would require railroad companies to compensate their employees for injuries suffered on duty. Appointed to the Railway Committee, he maneuvered the bill through the lower chamber, and rejoiced when it was sent to the Senate. But his exultation was short-lived. When the bill reached the State Senate, the members of that body toyed with it for a few days, finally cut the guts out of it. Debs, convinced that he had failed the railroad workers, promptly withdrew the bill from consideration. Other measures in which Debs was deeply interested also went down to defeat. He bolted his party to vote with the Republicans on a bill to abolish all distinctions of race and color in the laws of Indiana, but the bill lost by three votes. He voted for a bill to extend suffrage to women; again he was on the losing side.

By the time for adjournment, Debs had decided not to stand for re-election. He was ill-suited for the compromise and favoritism of political life, but his reaction was much too extreme. By the standards of the times, that legislative session in Indiana was a good one; it passed a resolution supporting a Federal eight-hour law for all trades but agriculture, and wrote into law an equal rights act for all places of “public accommodation or amusements,” a township tax of 1 per cent for the support of the libraries, a mechanics’ lien law, coal-mine safety provisions, a prohibition on the importation of foreign contract-labor. But Eugene Debs felt that he had failed his electorate; when he reached home in March, he told Theodore that he would never again run for public office. (42–43)

Over the following decade, Debs remained generally supportive of the Democratic Party, which nominally defended the cause of workers and farmers against the increasingly despotic owners of capital, whose interests were represented by the Republican Party. This was seemingly confirmed when the Republican Harrison administration aided the suppression of strikes at Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and Homestead, Pennsylvania in 1892, and when Harrison’s Democratic opponent, Grover Cleveland, voiced support for the workers against the collusion of their employers and the state, contributing to his victory later that year.

Debs campaigned for Cleveland in 1892 out of support for the working class against the collusion of capital and the state. Yet Debs knew the Democrats were anything but consistent and was more or less skeptical of the political establishment as a whole, siding with the Populist insurgency of workers and farmers in the early 1890s, which began organizing a new party. This skepticism was brutally validated when, in 1894, President Cleveland’s administration sent Federal troops to crush the Pullman Strike led by Debs’s recently formed American Railway Union.

This confirmed for Debs the necessity of independent political action on the part of the working class. The Democrats and Republicans alike supported the rule of capital against the struggle of the working class to improve their position in society. Only by representing themselves in the political sphere could the working class hope to break the collusion between capital and the state.

Yet the Populist movement was by no means uniform in its conviction to build an independent political party of workers and farmers, with many seeking instead to influence and transform one or both of the major parties. In the 1896 election, the Democratic Party sought to overcome the damage to its reputation that resulted from Cleveland’s suppression of the Pullman Strike, and to capitalize on the Populist insurgency, by nominating William Jennings Bryan — a Democrat popular within the Populist movement — as its Presidential candidate. The incipient People’s Party, rather than maintaining itself as an independent political force, also nominated Bryan, and much of the Populist movement was, as a result, folded into the Democratic Party base.

While Debs expressed support for the People’s Party, he had lost whatever remaining faith he had in the Democratic Party. He was won over to socialism in 1895 while serving his prison sentence for leading the Pullman Strike, and while he maintained hopes in the People’s Party despite its endorsement of Bryan and campaigned for it in 1896, he would ultimately recognize that the Populist movement failed because it was unable to preserve its independence.

Socialism, unlike Populism, reflected the necessity of independent political organization of the working class: Rather than simply seeking reforms to ameliorate the condition of working people, the socialists proposed that the working class should organize itself to take power, as only the working people could realize the potential for freedom capital represented. Capital was the means of production through universal cooperation, and as such, it could not be effectively and responsibly managed by individual owners. It could only be administered through the conscious cooperative management of the workers themselves, who had to organize to take political power in order to wield it to that end.

Sanders the Socialist?

Debs spent the remainder of his life building and leading an independent political party of the working class for socialism. Sanders, by contrast, began his political career with an independent socialist party, the Liberty Union Party of Vermont, running as their candidate in a number of elections in the 1970s. Yet by the end of the 70s he had grown disillusioned with this political strategy, during which time he produced an audio documentary about Eugene Debs.

In 1980, Sanders returned to politics, running as an independent candidate for Mayor of Burlington, Vermont. He managed to defeat the Democratic incumbent by agreeing to cooperate with Republican leadership, leading them to abstain from fielding a candidate.[1] As Mayor, Sanders built a coalition of supporters to win seats on city council, enabling him to overcome the veto power of Democratic opposition. This coalition grew beyond Burlington by joining the “Rainbow Coalition” supporting Jesse Jackson’s bids to become the Democratic Party presidential nominee in 1984 and 1988. In 1999 it constituted itself as the Vermont Progressive Party.

Yet Sanders did not join the Progressive Party. After eight years as Mayor of Burlington, he ran for Congress in 1988 when Republican Congressman Jim Jeffords vacated his seat to run for Senate. The Republican candidate, Peter Smith, won with 41% of the vote, while Sanders, who ran as an independent, received 38%, and Democratic candidate Paul Poirier 19%.

Not long after Sanders announced his bid to become the Democratic Party’s 2016 presidential nominee, Chris Hedges voiced his opposition to Sanders during a radio broadcast with Ralph Nader, complaining that Sanders would only “funnel” the enthusiasm his campaign generated “back into a dead political system.” Hedges went on to express his perplexity as to why Sanders, despite having “fought the Democratic establishment in Vermont his entire career,” had now “sold out to it.”

Paul Street, in an article for Counterpunch entitled “Bernie Out of the Closet: Sanders’ Longstanding Deal with the Democrats,” addressed Hedges’s confusion on this matter. While Sanders indeed “presented himself to the left outside of Vermont as the leader of the third party movement, vanquishing the two major parties in every Mayoral election,” the 1988 congressional race taught him a lesson in “the perils of third party politics.” By apparently “splitting” the “progressive” vote, Sanders had enabled the Republican contender to win the election. “Sanders responded by drifting right and cutting a deal with the Vermont Democrats: the party would permit no serious candidate to run against him while he blocked serious third party formation in Vermont and adopted positions in line with the national corporate war Democrats.”

Street quotes from Will Miller’s 1999 article, “Bernie the Bomber’s Bad Week”:

Bernie — out of office for the first time in eight years — went to the Kennedy School at Harvard for six months and came back with a new relationship with the state’s Democrats. The Vermont Democratic Party leadership has allowed no authorized candidate to run against Bernie in 1990 (or since) and in return, Bernie has repeatedly blocked third party building. His closet party, the Democrats, are very worried about a left 3rd party forming in Vermont. In the last two elections, Sanders has prevented Progressives in his machine from running against Howard Dean, our conservative Democratic Governor who was ahead of Gingrich in the attack on welfare.

The unauthorized Democratic candidate in 1990, Delores Sandoval, an African American faculty member at the University of Vermont, was amazed that the official party treated her as a nonperson and Bernie kept outflanking her to her right. She opposed the Gulf build-up, Bernie supported it. She supported decriminalization of drug use and Bernie defended the war on drugs, and so on…

After being safely elected in November of 1990, Bernie continued to support the buildup while seeking membership in the Democratic Congressional Caucus — with the enthusiastic support of the Vermont Democratic Party leadership. But, the national Democratic Party blew him off, so he finally voted against the war and returned home — and as the war began — belatedly claimed to be the leader of the anti-war movement in Vermont.

Since 1991 the Democrats have given Bernie membership in their Congressional Caucus. Reciprocally, Bernie has become an ardent imperialist…

Both Street’s and Miller’s indictments of Sanders deserve to be read in full.

To make a long story short, Sanders began his career as a candidate for an independent socialist party. He broke with that party to run as an “independent” but eventually reconciled himself with the Democratic Party. That process of reconciliation culminated with his 2016 campaign to become the Democratic nominee, whose outcome was to fold his base of support into the Clinton campaign. Sanders has been explicit since he entered the race: His goal was to breathe new life into the Democratic Party. To the extent that he has introduced “socialism” to a new generation, he has only done so by making “socialism” into the rallying cry for a Democratic Party revival.

Debs, by contrast, began his political career as a candidate for the Democratic Party but grew progressively disillusioned with that party, ultimately breaking with it in recognizing the necessity of building an independent socialist party. He dedicated the remainder of his life to that project. For Debs, socialism represented nothing if not absolute, intransigent opposition to the Democratic and Republican parties alike—and not merely ideological opposition, but the opposition of an organized force actively contending for political power in every electoral contest it could enter.

Bernie Sanders has long claimed Eugene Debs as his hero. Yet Sanders’s political trajectory could not be more starkly opposed to that of Debs.

The death of the Debsian legacy

Sanders can claim Debs as his hero if he wants, but his own political career reflects nothing if not a total rejection of the principle that, for Debs, defined socialism: independent political organization of the working class against the parties of ruling class. Sanders himself embodies the final liquidation of the legacy of the Socialist Party of Debs.

Sanders was not responsible for the liquidation of independent socialist politics. This liquidation was already well underway when he was coming of age. The Socialist Party of America had effectively abandoned this principle by 1958 when it was taken over by the followers of a former Trotskyist named Max Shachtman (notably including Bayard Rustin and Michael Harrington). Shachtman and his followers concluded that it was no longer feasible to organize socialism as an independent political party. The Cold War in particular presented an immense obstacle to the viability of socialist politics in the United States.

Yet the Shachtmanites had not given up on socialism entirely. Their prognosis was that, if socialism were to become a viable political project again in the future, conditions for a future rebirth of the Socialist Party would have to be generated from the political morass that presently obstructed it. They saw potential to generate such conditions by effecting a “realignment” of the two capitalist parties.

The Democratic Party had, since the New Deal, maintained a firm grip on the labor movement but also encompassed rabidly anti-socialist Cold Warriors and the racist pro-segregationist “Dixiecrats.” The Republican Party, on the other hand, championed civil rights legislation despite lacking the congressional majority necessary to secure it and tended to aver the bellicose anti-Communism of the Democrats in favor of pragmatic moderation, while nonetheless posing as the party of “big business.”

Yet these divisions were becoming unstable as the New Deal coalition came into crisis. Shachtman saw an opportunity to use the growing issue of Civil Rights to instigate a sea change in both parties: If organized labor and the civil rights movement united in common cause, it could drive the Dixiecrats out of the Democratic Party and into the Republican Party. This would at once render the labor movement a more powerful constituency within the Democratic Party and render it the vanguard of the struggle for democracy represented by the civil rights movement, while purging the anti-democratic segregationist element. It would likewise lead the Republican Party to opportunistically unite reactionary anti-democratic racism with capitalist opposition to organized labor. This would then open up a new opportunity for socialist leadership, which would have the opportunity to expose the limitations to both the labor movement and to democracy posed by capitalism.

Something akin to the realignment Shachtman envisioned did, in fact, occur, although to what extent this was the product of a deliberate strategy on the part of the Shachtmanite Socialist Party is debatable. Yet by the early 70s, his followers did not see any prospects for a rebirth of independent socialist politics. At its 1972 convention (co-chaired by Rustin), the Socialist Party of America finally abandoned the pretense of remaining an independent political party, renaming itself Social Democrats USA.

Michael Harrington, who had been co-chair of the party before the convention, resigned that position just beforehand and left SDUSA the following year. Harrington complained that, while the organization had endorsed the presidential campaign of George McGovern, whose bid for the Democratic nomination was based largely on opposition to the Vietnam War, they had done too little to support him. The SDUSA leadership maintained ambivalence about the anti-war sentiment due to their deep opposition to Stalinist Communism, which they viewed as a fundamental obstacle to the possibility of socialism, and their suspicion of the pro-Communist sentiments that predominated among young anti-war activists.

Harrington would go on to form the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee, forerunner of Democratic Socialists of America. DSOC, and then DSA, did not abandon the Shachmanite realignment strategy but further softened it. Rather than seeking to fundamentally reshape the landscape of mainstream politics to secure a future for socialism, Harrington sought merely to support and encourage progressive tendencies within the Democratic Party, hoping to cultivate a genuine “liberal” and “democratic” political current from which, someday, socialism might eventually reemerge.

Yet the legacy of the Socialist Party of America was not completely liquidated under the Shachtmanite leadership, whether they followed Rustin or Harrington. Dissenters in the SPA formed the “Debs Caucus,” which broke with the SDUSA to form the legitimate successor to the old party, keeping faith with the principle of independent political organization for socialism: the Socialist Party USA (of which the author is a member).

Sanders was a member of the youth wing of the Socialist Party of America, the Young People’s Socialist League, while in college in the 60s, before moving to Vermont in 68. It is unclear to what extent he was ideologically influenced by Shachtman and his followers. Yet by the end of the 70s, he was acquiescing to the same lowered horizons that defined the Shachmanite prognosis.

Harrington’s followers were likewise beholden to this jaundiced view of the prospects for independent socialist politics. DSA in no sense maintains the legacy of the party of Debs but rather continues to lead its liquidation. Thus, while Sanders clearly motivated renewed interest in DSA after his 2016 presidential bid by (reluctantly) wearing the label of “democratic socialist,” it was not simply the shared appellation that catalyzed DSA’s post-election growth. It was the fact that DSA, like Sanders himself, sees no future for socialism outside of the Democratic Party. In other words, it sees no future for the legacy of Debs.

Debs after the defeat of Socialism

Some defenders of Sanders and DSA will claim that, were Debs alive today, he would recognize that contemporary conditions make it not only possible, but even necessary, to “use” the Democratic Party to advance the cause of socialism. They will claim that Debs would defend “socialists” running as Democrats and endorsing Democrats. This reveals the extent to which the legacy of Debs, thanks to the misleadership of Shachtman, Harrington, and Sanders, has been utterly forgotten, or worse, “remembered” only for the sake of rationalizing its own ongoing liquidation.

From the time he converted to socialism until his death, Debs was clearly and unswervingly convinced of the necessity of independent political organization of the working class around the goal of socialism and was intransigently opposed to anything that would threaten or impede that project. That meant, above all, staking out a political position that was clearly independent of and opposed to both capitalist parties.

The only episode in Debs’s career as a socialist that could even possibly suggest otherwise is worth considering, however.

After 1920, the Socialist Party of America was decimated. Actually, that is a dramatic understatement. “Decimated” literally means “to lose one in every ten members.” Yet the Socialist Party of America had over 100,000 members in 1919. By 1922, it had just over 10,000. The Socialist Party of America was not decimated; it did not lose one out of every ten members. It lost nine out of every ten members.

Why this happened is complicated, but the overarching reason is that the international socialist movement (the Second International), and the Socialist Party of America as a section thereof, was unprepared for the existential threat posed by World War I. Yet the Second International was not blindsided by the war. A war of that kind had been prophesied for decades, above all by Engels himself, who recognized such a war as posing both a fundamental threat and opportunity.[2] The potential threat and opportunity posed by imperialist war was one of the fundamental theoretical and strategic questions animating debate within the socialist movement up to 1914 when the war finally broke out. Yet when the moment to take decisive action finally came, the movement was shattered.

This manifested, in part, in the split between the Socialists and the Communists, but at least in the US, this split cannot account for the entirety, or even the majority, of the exodus from the SP. Much of the losses resulted from state and para-state repression of the SP, which used the SP’s opposition to the war as an excuse: the imprisonment of many SP leaders for sedition, Debs included; refusal to seat elected Socialist Party representatives in legislative bodies, including Congress; intimidation and violent attacks by the state (the Palmer raids) as well as by anti-socialist groups like the American Legion and the reconstituted Ku Klux Klan; and perhaps most importantly, the suppression of the socialist press by the Postal Service, which severed the only means by which the party’s organizational apparatus could maintain itself on a national scale.

Furthermore, we should consider the effect of the pro-war sentiment drummed up by the ruling parties, a sentiment that manifested to a significant extent within the socialist movement itself as well as among the masses: The war was seen as a great war of democracy (the UK, France, and the U.S.) against the resurgent ambitions of old fashioned absolutist despotism (the Prussian and Austro-Hungarian Empires). In that context, opposition to the war looked like a defense of despotism against democracy, and many working class people in the U.S. and Europe, whether socialist or not, understandably sided with the latter against the former. The anti-war stance maintained by the SPA leadership made it vulnerable not only to state repression but to popular opposition in the name of international democratic revolution.

As a result, the SPA barely survived the war. For that matter, Debs, who despite his many shortcomings was the best leader the SPA had, was by that time nearly 70, and his health was ruined by decades of tireless party work and by the two years he spent in prison for opposing the war.

The party was desperate to find a way forward in the midst of catastrophe. It was in this context that the strategy of building a broad “Labor Party” along the lines of the Britain’s recently formed “Independent Labour Party” gained traction. While leaders of the SP’s right wing had been advocating this tack for some time, it only won substantial support (including that of Debs) in the early 20s, as a desperate measure.

The SPA issued a call to unite the “forces of every progressive, liberal, and radical organization of the workers” in order to “advance the industrial and political power of the working class.”[3] This took the form of the Conference for Progressive Political Action, in which the SPA joined the major unions, the remnants of Populism advocating a “Farmer-Labor Party,” and the remnants of the “Progressive” movement, including Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressive Party and self-identified “progressives” in both the Republican and Democratic parties. The Conference ended up recruiting the old Progressive Republican Robert La Follette to run as their presidential candidate in 1924, with the support of Debs among other Socialists.

La Follette affirmed the need for “a militant political movement independent of the two old party organizations” but refused to use the campaign to organize an independent party, seeking instead to support progressive candidates within both major parties. Yet he did suggest that, depending on the results of the campaign, a new party might be formed after the election.

La Follette lost, of course, but after that loss he withdrew from the Conference, leading to its immediate deflation and seriously undermining the prospect of using the support generated by his campaign to constitute a new party. In the aftermath, the Conference scrambled to find a way forward but was split between the Socialist Party elements that wanted to form a Labor Party along explicit class lines and AFL and Progressive elements that favored either forming a Progressive Party or maintaining the Conference as a non-partisan pressure group. In either case these would avoid the question of class struggle and instead focus on championing “progressive” reforms in class-neutral terms.

The anti-party elements, including much of the AFL union representation, left the Conference. A rump of the CPPA was reconvened out of the pro-party elements, but the Labor Party faction led by the SPA was defeated by the Progressive Party faction. The Socialist Party subsequently abandoned the CPPA project, and the Progressive Party project fizzled out over the next few years.

As Ray Ginger put it in his biography of Debs, the SP learned the hard way that it had “walked into a trap” and, indeed, had set the trap for itself (447). When the CPPA collapsed,

it dragged the Socialist Party down with it. Having led their members into a much stronger organization, the Socialist officials now found it difficult to hold them together. The smallest convention in the history of the Socialist Party met in Chicago on February 23, 1925. There were forty-five delegates, all of them veterans. Morris Hillquit called them the die-hards. (447)

Debs, for his part, reflected at that convention that

I seem to have been delivered from a nightmare…While we were in the so-called Progressive movement I felt as if I had lost my wings. I felt like an octogenarian snail just crawling along. Now I feel as if I could leap from crag to crag like a Rocky Mountain goat. (448)

The strategy of independent political organization for socialism that had been so successful in the 1900s and 1910s (as it had been in Europe since the 1880s) was hence further vindicated negatively. Attempting to form a broad, cross-class political coalition had nearly destroyed what little remained of the SP after WWI.

All that being said, the CPPA was in no sense comparable to an alliance with, let alone an entry into, the Democratic Party. Debs was extremely clear throughout that the Socialist Party, far from giving up on independent political organization for socialism, was only seeking another way forward for that project after having been forced into retreat.

For example, he wrote in 1924,

What will take place at St. Paul on June 17 or at Cleveland on July 4, we do not know and cannot tell, but we do know that whatever the outcome of those conventions, the Socialist Party will be more imperatively needed and in greater demand than ever before in its history.

For myself, I earnestly hope a united Labor Party, based upon the principles of industrial democracy and cornerstoned in the interest of the working class, may issue from these conventions; but whether it does nor not we must preserve strictly the identity and guard rigidly the integrity of the Socialist Party as an uncompromising revolutionary political organization of the workers in their struggle for emancipation.

In the event of a united party with which we have affiliation, we shall be in position to carry forward our educational work to better advantage, as the Independent Labour Party was in developing and building up the British Labour Party in England.

In case our Party should not merge in the present movement for a united party, we shall need as never before to be on the political battlefield this fall, sounding the clear note and issuing the clarion call in the babel of confusion, for the unconditional surrender of capitalism and the triumphant emancipation of the working class.[4]

Early in 1925, he wrote,

Let me make it clear that I am not wanting another Socialist Party organized. We already have one and that is enough. Neither do I want another capitalist party organized, having already two, more than enough.

A middle-class party, by whatever name, would still be a capitalist party, for while it might champion ‘little interests’ against ‘big interests,’ with a sop to labor, it would still stand for the capitalist system and the perpetuation of wage-slavery.

If a genuine Labor Party is organized at Chicago I shall not expect the platform to go the limit of radical demands but shall be satisfied with a reasonable statement of labor’s rights and interests as well as its duties and responsibilities, doubting not that with the progress of the party its platform will in due time embrace every essential feature of the working class program for deliverance from industrial servitude.

The Socialist Party can, should, and I have no doubt will join such a party wholeheartedly, become an integral part of its structure, reserving, however, its autonomy unimpaired and using all its powers and functions in building up, equipping, promoting, and directing the general party.

To this end the Socialist Party must stand fearless and erect, inflexible and uncompromising for the working class upon the basis of the class struggle and wage the war against capitalism for the liberation of labor from its age-old bondage.[5]

And at the Second Convention of the CPPA, he said,

Now I believe that it is impossible to compromise a principle, and the Socialist Party is committed to a certain principle. To compromise principle is to court death and disaster. It is better to be true to a principle and to stand alone and be able to look yourself in the face without a blush, far better to be in a hopeless minority than to be in a great popular and powerful majority of the unthinking.

Do you know that all the progress in this whole world’s history has been made by minorities? I have somehow been fortunately all of my life in the minority. I have thought again and again that if I ever find myself in the majority I will know that I have outlived myself. There is something magnificent about having the courage to stand with a few with and for a principle and to fight for it without fear or favor, developing all of your latent power, expanding to the proportional end, rising to your true stature, no matter whose respect you may forfeit, as long as you keep your own.

I am glad to stand with a staunch revolutionary minority, and the capitalists understand what we are and what we stand for, even if the workers don’t. They don’t object in the least to the organization of a third party. They know very well it will not last very long, but they are decidedly opposed to the organization of a labor party. That is what they are opposed to, and if a labor party is organized, it must expect from the very beginning to be misrepresented and ridiculed and traduced in every possible way, but if it consists of those who are the living representatives of its principles it will make progress in spite of them, and in due course of time it will sweep into triumph.

So I have learned to be patient and to bide the time. I am expecting something from this body before it adjourns. But let me say to you, whether I receive what I expect or not, I shall not leave here disappointed. Long, long ago in my life I learned how to refuse to be disappointed. No one can disappoint me but myself, and I refuse to betray myself. I can’t do that. I prefer to be on speaking terms with myself, and so I stand for this principle. Make the appeal to the working class on this principle.[6]

There is no question that Debs went to his grave convicted of this principle, which guided his political activity from the moment he became a socialist. The CPPA may have been a mistake. The SP suffered the consequences of allowing itself to lose its political independence within a cross-class political alliance. But the SP did not champion the CPPA as a renunciation of that principle; it did so under the unfortunately mistaken assumption that it could preserve its political independence in the process.

For that matter, the SP of that time, and Debs least of all, never considered either capitalist party as a vehicle they could use to their advantage. They recognized the necessity of standing in clear opposition to the capitalist parties by maintaining their independence from them. Unfortunately, the CPPA ended up muddling that clarity, which is why the SP finally abandoned it.

The assertion that the lesson of Debs’s career, and of the Socialist Party he built and led until his death, is that the principle of independent socialist political organization should be forsaken, and that Debs himself would have admitted as much, is so profoundly disconnected from the actual history and so completely out of step with everything Debs said and did from his conversion to Socialism until his death that it could only issue from someone either completely ignorant of the legacy of Debs and the old Socialist Party of America or bent on deliberately misrepresenting that legacy in order to rationalize their betrayal of the principle task that defined it.

The Socialist Party is more imperatively needed than ever before in its history. It should be in greater demand now than ever before; yet today’s socialists are afraid to raise this demand by building the party. The principle that motivated Debs to build that party can — and must — motivate its rebirth today. To continue to compromise this principle is to accept the consequences long attested by history: death and disaster. |P

[1] See Greg Guma’s 1989 book, The People’s Republic: Vermont and the Sanders Revolution, p. 19-42. Guma, incidentally, was also running for Mayor of Burlington that year as a candidate for the Citizen’s Party but withdrew so as to avoid splitting the “progressive” vote.

[2] See, for example, Engels’s letter to August Bebel available at

[3] This call can be found at

[4] See

[5] See

[6] See

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