RCC Honors History Project

Speech to the First Annual Convention of the Social Democracy of America, June 9, 1898 — excerpt. by Eugene V. Debs

Posted by chad612 on April 15, 2009

Published in The Social Democrat [Chicago], v. 5, no. 23 (June 16, 1898), pg. 4.
During the course of his speech at the convention
Comrade Debs gave utterance to the following:
“At one time I thought that if a man could not
pay 15 cents per month [SD of A dues] he was not
worth having. But I have found that thousands of men
in this country have not got 15 cents, and in many
cases they have not got 15 cents because they are men.
I have it on good authority that there is not 10 cents
in the South, wages being paid in merchandise. We
must make Social Democracy broad enough to reach
these men. The problem that confronts the world today
is the economic problem. The Southern people
are rapidly being disfranchised. They are being robbed
of the power of the ballot. If we are equal to the trust
imposed in us, we can carry on the economic action
in harmony with the political action. The economic
situation in the United States appeals to the stomach,
heart, and brain.
“I give the SLP great credit for what it has done,
but it is too narrow to appeal to the great broad spirit
of American Socialists. When the find a downtrodden
toiler that has just enough conscience left to realize
that he belongs to the working class, down comes the
class-conscious club and knocks him into unconsciousness
entirely.
“The great difficulty is that the working men
are cowards; their courage has been crushed out, and
unionism has done more than anything else to awaken
them to class-consciousness or a realization that the
producers’ interests are identical the world over.
“The mission of Social Democracy is to awaken
the producer to a consciousness that he is a Socialist
and to give him courage by changing his conditions. I
have not changed in regard to our procedure. Give me
10,000 men, aye, 1,000 in a western state, with access
to the sources of production, and we will change the
economic conditions and we will convince the people
of that state, win their hearts and their intelligence.
We will lay hold upon the reins of government, and
plant the flag of Socialism on the state house. The state
government in this offers us an advantage that is not
found in any European country. We can take possession
of one state, and not wait until we get the whole
United States. We must get one state at a time. In a
movement such as this there is always some friction.
We are in the birth throes of a new movement, the
most responsible movement the world ever saw, and it
demands the most careful consideration of honest men
and women.
“We may wreck Social Democracy today, but
the movement is evolutionary. If there is a Judas among
us, like Judas of old, he will hang himself. Don’t deceive
yourselves. I don’t fear the man that says I don’t
agree with you. The only thing in this world that I
fear is ignorance. I am mortally afraid of an ignorant
supporter. I have faith that this body will obliterate
those dividing lines before we adjourn. Thing for yourself,
would be my last word. If you oppose and defeat
me I have infinitely more respect for you than if you
support me without thinking for yourself.”

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