On This Date in History: In the past year or so, we have heard the term “Socialist” has been tossed about when speaking about politics and some individuals involved in political policy. This is not new. Socialism has been a political doctrine that has been at least part of the American political discussion in the past. In the late 20th century, it was mostly spoken of in great disdain but earlier in the century, it was seen as a potential revolutionary ideal. During the Great Depression, some in America saw Socialism as an answer to all of the ills of the country. Now, Karl Marx had published his Communist Manifesto in 1848 but it took a while for the ideals to rise. See, Marx thought that his brand of socialism was scientifically superior. The folks in Russia kinda liked it because they took a form of it into their revolution in 1917. Most Americans were not too keen on the whole idea and there was a sort of Red Scare.
But, one American, Eugene V. Debs thought that if socialism was good for the Russians, it was good for America. Actually, Debs had run for President as a socialist for every election since 1900, except for the 1916 race. The Socialist Party of America had written lots of stuff. Perhaps he thought that Woodrow Wilson had kept the country out of the war so maybe the timing wasn’t good in 1916. But, since then, the revolution in Russia had taken place and the Americans had entered the Great War, the war was over, millions were dead from the flu and the war, Europe lay in ruins and the League of Nations had not gained American support. The Socialists blamed Capitalism for the Great War. So the time was right to strike again!
Debs had been out and about, speaking out to anyone who would listen in 1918. Millions had died in World War I and the Spanish Flu was killing millions around the world and devastating the population of the United States. What a good time for a little revolution, thought Debs. But, the U.S. Congress had passed the Espionage Act in 1917 as part of the war effort. Part of the legislation was if one criticized the law, then you were in violation of the law. Eugene V. Debs spoke out against it and into jail he went. But, in a rather remarkable turn of events, Eugene V. Debs carried on his campaign for President of the United States from his Atlanta Federal Penitentiary jail cell as the Socialist Party candidate for the 1920 presidential election.
Prison officials allowed Debs to write on press bullietin per week. The night before the election, Debs wrote, “The result will be as it should be. The people will vote for what they think they want, to the extent that they think at all, and they, too will not be disappointed.” It’s hard to say from that statement what Debs expected but, on this date in history, what he got was almost a million votes, or about 5.7% of the vote total of the winner, Warren G. Harding. Of the five times that Debs ran for President as the standard bearer of the Social Party, but never did he receive more votes than he did when he was in prison. Debs never ran for president again and one socialist leader said that the 1920 election said it was “the last flicker of the dying candle.” Maybe; but then again it merely marked the high point of a candidate running under the moniker of “socialist.” I mean, if you look at the Socialist Party Platform of 1896, you will find many of their demands have indeed come into the American mainstream.
The socialists were in favor of a progressive income tax, suffrage for all citizens without regard to race or sex, government the sole issuer of money, compulsory education for kids under 14 and the state providing meals, books and clothes to kids when necessary and Federal management of forests. Sound familiar? All of those things were eventually enacted but not by Socialists, but instead Republicans and Democrats. So, who knows? Perhaps the socialist call for the destruction fo the capitalist system, which socialists claim brings “inequality essentially destructive of life, of liberty and of happiness” may be pushed…but not under the moniker so boldly proclaimed by Debs from his jail cell.
Weather Bottom Line: It got to freezing at my house last night. I can tell because Paint Brush, our unofficially adopted stray cat, decided to climb on my sunflowers. The 12 foot stalks are still strong because he dangled from them..but..I noticed the leaves are suddenly drooping terribly and overnight they turned almost black. Well, the cool conditions will persist all week. Highs in the 50’s, probably no freezing temperatures for most people but with lows in the 30’s area wide for the next few nights, freezing conditions for some people is probable. Aside for some clouds midweek, it should be dry and next weekend look for a moderation to the low to mid 60’s by Saturday and maybe Sunday afternoon.