Happy Birthday Eugene!
November 6, 2018 6:13 AM   Subscribe

“Debs happened to be campaigning for president in Louisiana and Texas at the time, and he took the opportunity to criticize not only local bigots but the international culture of white supremacy that Rudyard Kipling celebrated four years earlier in his poem “The White Man’s Burden.” Drawing on works by African-American contemporaries including W.E.B. Du Bois, he insisted that the Socialist Party would be untrue to its mission unless it welcomed “the Negro and all other races upon absolutely equal terms.” Something To Offer, Eugene V. Debs, The American Socialist Party And Black Liberation. (Jacobin) Bernard J. Brommel discusses his book "Eugene V. Debs: Spokesman for Labor and Socialism" (Studs Terkel Radio Archive) Mark Ruffalo reads the speech that put Eugene Debs in prison. (YouTube) The Eugene Debs House In Terre Haute, Indiana (Buckeye Muse) “When I think of the millions who have suffered in all the wicked wars of the past, I am shaken with the anguish of a great impatience. “ Helen Keller’s letter to Debs in prison. On Industral Unionism, Eugene V. Debs 1905.
posted by The Whelk (19 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
Yay Helen Keller! The things she stood for they don't tell you in school! What a writer!
posted by kozad at 6:58 AM on November 6, 2018 [7 favorites]

From the Jacobin link: Echoing Hegel’s theory that modern civilization was defined by the dialectic between masters and slaves, Debs attributed white supremacy to the shame that white people felt from living off the labor of others: “You can forgive the man who robs you, but you can’t forgive the man you rob,” he observed, “in his haggard features you read your indictment and this makes his face so repulsive that you must keep it under your heels where you cannot see it.”

That makes a lot of sense.
posted by TedW at 8:13 AM on November 6, 2018 [25 favorites]

That makes a lot of sense.

That's pretty much what I say about almost everything I read from Debs. Might as well be a motto.
posted by gusottertrout at 8:39 AM on November 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

This is some very pleasant and distracting reading, which I appreciate right now.

I can't really imagine what it would have been like to hear Debs speak, but it seems like it would have been great. Maybe something like a cross between May Day and when the old communists in the Maritime Union give speeches.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 9:01 AM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

(The Debs' home became a frat house?!)
posted by doctornemo at 9:12 AM on November 6, 2018

Wayyy back in middle school one of my teachers had the class learn, memorize, and recite "If" by Rudyard Kipling.

I only learned he was a poet back then. Now I quietly vomit while grateful I don't remember any verse of the poem at all.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 9:17 AM on November 6, 2018

We read "The White Man's Burden" in high school and discussed the impact it had nationally. I can't remember if we read one of the many contemporaneous parodies ("The Real White Man's Burden," "The Brown Man's Burden," "The Black Man's Burden" (and another author's version), "The Poor Man's Burden," "How May We Put It Down?"), but I definitely encountered those later on.

On balance, I rather prefer that approach to poetry.
posted by sciatrix at 9:35 AM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

George Orwell is the prescribed British brain cleanser for Kipling's colonialism.
posted by kokaku at 9:36 AM on November 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

I like to think that my mother named me after him (without telling my father) but I'll never know.
posted by octothorpe at 9:49 AM on November 6, 2018

From the piece that brought Kipling's miserable encouragement of the American conquest of the Phillipines up in the first place, here's a bit that really impressed me:
To illustrate the dialectic between race and class, Debs described his encounter in a Texas rail depot with “four or five bearers of the white man’s burden perched on a railing and decorating their environment with tobacco juice.” As Debs left the station carrying two suitcases, one of the white men called to him, “There’s a nigger that’ll carry your grips.” Another shouted, “That’s what he’s here for.” Debs noted that the white men were dirty, uneducated, and demoralized and yet still believed they were superior to “the cleanest, most intelligent and self-respecting Negro.”

That contradiction was evident not just in the status of poor white men, he observed, but also in the broader regional and national culture. Black workers had created the Southern economy before the Civil War and “the South of today would totally collapse without” them, he wrote, noting that in addition to the physical labor provided by African Americans the high price commanded by Southern cotton in the international marketplace was due also “to the genius of the Negroes charged with its cultivation.” He presented the tobacco-chewing Texans as an analogy for a society that denied its dependence on African Americans, declaring, “Here was a savory bouquet of white superiority.”
This is a really elegant refutation of the concept that focusing on class warfare will magically solve racism (or sexism, or or or...) I am always pleased and impressed when I dig into my history and find that the figures I rely on for inspiration are much more subtle and far-seeing in their analysis than I would expect, given the views being championed by contemporaries at the time. Perhaps my standards are too low, but then there it is. It's important to me to be able to point out that it's not as if it was impossible for a white man to notice what was going on with racism mediated either within a class or from white working-class folks to black middle-class ones.

Of course, the article then goes on to discuss ways in which Debs' legacy was complicated in racism's context--he was by no means a perfect ally, and the discussion of ways in which he tried to negotiate the racism of his own party and movement without undermining the strength of that movement is solid and relevant reading today.

(And as a culturally Catholic white woman with a very Italian last name, I do confess to flinching at Deb's description of Italians, too! It's a good reminder to me that allyship is important, not least because my own ancestors needed allyship once, and my descendents might again. The place of social power I currently occupy as a white woman is not a place I am owed or that I earned, and fate is capricious. So as a student of history, it behooves me to remember that I ought not to expect allyship from others if I do need it if I'm not also willing to lend a hand to folks who are struggling now.)
posted by sciatrix at 9:57 AM on November 6, 2018 [13 favorites]

American Socialist, about Debs,came out last year.

Roger Lea MacBride, Rose Wilder Lane's heir, has Eliza Jane be a staunch Debs supporter in his series of kids' books about Rose.She's portrayed more sympathetically than in Laura's books.
posted by brujita at 1:26 PM on November 6, 2018

Whelk put!
posted by Twang at 3:33 PM on November 6, 2018

Roger Lea MacBride, Rose Wilder Lane's heir, has Eliza Jane be a staunch Debs supporter in his series of kids' books about Rose.She's portrayed more sympathetically than in Laura's books.

Wait--someone wrote a book about Rose Wilder Lane that has either Rose or her friends be a staunch Eugene Debs supporter? That spiteful woman must be rotating in her grave like a high-powered lathe.
posted by sciatrix at 3:38 PM on November 6, 2018

Now I see why Helen Keller's work has been taken out of some schools.
posted by Oyéah at 6:50 PM on November 6, 2018

I am interested in hearing Eugene Debs' speech, but not if it is interrupted after every sentence for banal commentary.
posted by foobaz at 10:26 PM on November 7, 2018

Timely post (even if I'm late to it). I've had a tradition, even since voting in my first election, of writing in Eugene V. Debs for some random seat, usually of someone running unopposed. This year he got a vote to be the county soil and water commissioner. It's a small thing, but I figure if the man can get almost a million votes from a jail cell, he can get at least one from beyond the grave.
posted by Panjandrum at 4:41 AM on November 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

macbride called lane grandma.
posted by brujita at 12:36 PM on November 12, 2018

« Older Algorithms define our lives   |   How Has the Global Economy Shaped the United... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments