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Socialist Party

In the late 1890s, a growing number of native Americans were converted to Socialism, including Eugene Debs, a prominent labor leader, and dissatisfaction with the policy of the German Socialists who had formed the bulk of the Socialist Labor Party began to manifest itself. In 1900 came a split; those within the Socialist Labor Party (SLP) who believed in winning workers to socialist philosophy without resort to "dual unionism" broke away in 1901 and formed the Socialist Party whose members then sought, unsuccessfully, to change traditional AFL policies from within the federation.

Once the Socialist Party was organized, in the presidential elections of that year it polled nearly 100,000 votes. Henceforward the Socialist Labor Party dwindled in strength, while the Socialist Party developed rapidly, polling 901,361 votes in the presidential election in 1912.

The Socialist Party maintained that the ballot box was all-sufficient as a means whereby to bring about the social revolution. Same is not to spring into being at one, time, however, but is to keep step with industrial evolution and education of the workers.

Industrial evolution tended to the placing of business under governmental control, leading to governmental ownership of same, as exemplified by the Post Office. Evolution had already reached a point where for the Post Office to continue in the hands of greedy corporations or trusts who would charge excessive rates for postage, would impair the world’s traffic. Precisely the same theory was applied to telegraphs, telephones and railroad systems, which by the very law of evolution, without any socialist activity, will have to be placed under governmental control or business will be endangered.

Meanwhile the workers will be educated, laws in their favor enacted, as for instance an 8 hour work day, old age pensions, free baths, anti-injunction laws, etc., until at last the workingmen through their votes direct the government to inaugurate Socialism in full, and the revolution is effected.

Thereupon sweeping discharges will go on among the ranks of governmental - officials in all departments thereof. Judges for issuance of eviction papers, marshals for doing the evicting, policemen for chasing peddlers or clubbing strikers, etc., etc., will have to be dismissed and given different jobs. New jobs will have to be created and the officials elected by the workingmen of each district, city, county or state; also the national officials will see to it that each and every worker gets the full product of his labor, each official in his territory.

In 1899 the first international Socialist Congress was held, and thereafter a similar international meeting was held every three years, for the purpose of formulating common action. Needless to remark, the politicians were behind these congresses, and of these the German Socialists were dominant. German Socialism, which had built up the biggest political party in Germany, remained the ideal of the Socialists in all other countries, with the exception of England, where, through the influence of the Fabian Society, the Labor Party had been gradually developed with a platform based simply on an extension of government enterprise.

 De Leon Eugene V. Debs, the great American labor leader, as a Socialist, ran for president not once, but five times. The was founded as the Social Democratic Party of America in 1898. A passionate leader of railroad strikes — Terre Haute a century ago was one of the major railroad hubs of the nation — Debs was also a founding member of the Industrial Workers of the World and a vocal opponent of American entry into World War I.

When he clashed with President Wilson over the military draft in 1918, he was sent to prison under an espionage act. He was later indicted on June 29, 1918 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern (Cleveland) Division of the Northern District of Ohio for violating the Espionage Act of 1917. Debs was convicted by a jury on September 12, 1918, and sentenced to federal prison. He appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court of the United States. On April 12, 1919, the Supreme Court confirmed the court's verdict and Debs was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. Debs spent over two years of a ten-year sentence at a federal penitentiary in Atlanta, where he ran for the presidency in 1920 — the only candidate ever to run a campaign from a jail cell. In December 1921, President Warren G. Harding commuted Debs' sentence to time served and he was released.

Historians have tended to dismiss the socialist movement in the United States during the first two decades of the twentieth century as simply another reform movement and have considered its impact as minimal. Upon reconsideration though the socialist movement in the United States did have a significant national impact. For example, Eugene Debs' 1924 bid for president was one of the most significant third party campaigns in our history. Perhaps equally important was the impact of socialism which occurred at the local and state levels.

On a national level, the socialist movement grew from the grassroots and was prevalent across the United States. Socialists were active in many towns and large cities, and such prominent cities as Minneapolis, Cleveland and Milwaukee elected socialist mayors during the 1910s (Weinstein). Such widespread support of socialism pushed the political debate in a direction that ultimately led to significant economic and institutional reforms that were first implemented during the New Deal.

In May, 1920, the American Socialist Party held its national convention and passed a resolution supporting the Third International, with the important reservation, however, that it did not believe it feasible to adopt the revolutionary program culminating in the dictatorship of the roletariat. In March, 1920, the Third International held its second convocation in Moscow. Several months after that, and after the resolution passed by the American Socialists in May, the Executive Committee of the Third International presented twenty-one points which the American Socialist Party must indorse before it would be admitted to join. Among these points were: that the editors of the Party organs must be men who had declared themselves Communists previously, or, in other words, the present editors must all be dismissed and replaced by members of the Communist Party. The document read like terms presented to a defeated foe by a mighty conqueror. These terms were finally rejected by the National Executive Committee of the American Socialist Party, in December, 1920.

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Page last modified: 01-11-2017 19:29:11 ZULU