What really happened to American Socialism?

Eugene Debs 1904 campaign poster


Despite the corporate hype, Democratic Socialism and Social Democracy are deeply rooted in the mainstream of our nation’s history.
The lie that they’re “foreign ideologies” starts with the fascist assault Woodrow Wilson waged against them during and after World War I.
Their marginalization today by corporate Democrats and Trump Republicans is itself profoundly un-American.
Here’s the reality (as explained in greater length in my new “People’s Spiral of U.S. History”):
In the decades after the Civil War, robber baron corporations captured the core of the American economy. Led by J.P. Morgan and John Rockefeller, they pushed family farmers and urban workers deep into the depths of poverty.
In the west and south, agrarian activists formed the People’s (Populist) Party to demand public control over the monopoly capitalist forces that were destroying their lives. Their socialistic platforms demanded democratic rule over the money supply, banks, railroads, telecommunications and much more. They wanted female suffrage, direct election of senators, referendum and recall.
But in 1896, the Populists were sabotaged by wimp Democrat William Jennings Bryan, who begged their support, then back-stabbed them in a presidential election he lost (of course) to the corporate Republican William McKinley.
Soon thereafter the great labor leader Eugene V. Debs became an outspoken socialist. Debs had formed the American Railway Union and led a great 1895 national rail strike that shut down the nation. He was jailed by President Grover Cleveland, a Democrat he’d previously supported.
While imprisoned in Woodstock, Ill., Debs renounced corporate capitalism. He called instead for an economic system owned and operated by America’s working people. The means of production would be socialized for the good of the public, he said. All citizens would be guaranteed a decent living, including food, housing, education, medical care and more. “I am for Socialism,” he said, “because I am for humanity.”
Amiable, charismatic and incorruptible, the tall, slim Indiana-born Debs gathered a huge national following. Tens of millions of Americans accepted Debsian Socialism as a legitimate part of the national dialogue. The party elected hundreds of local officials throughout the country, including many mayors and two U.S. representatives. Millions—including many conservatives—assumed (especially while Gene was around) the U.S. might someday have a Socialist president.
Thousands flocked to Debs’ speeches on a moment’s notice. Dubbed “the American Saint,” he demanded an egalitarian grassroots democracy that extended deep into the realm of material well-being. Gene’s American Socialist Party renounced dictatorship of any kind and sustained a far deeper commitment to the Bill of Rights than either the Republicans or the Democrats.
The American Socialist Party strongly opposed American empire. It fought all-out against Woodrow Wilson’s plunge into World War I. In 1916 Wilson had run for re-election as a “peace candidate.” Then he jumped in to save the British and French, who owed Morgan and Rockefeller huge sums of money.
To defend his hugely unpopular imperial war, Wilson shredded the Constitution. He jailed thou-sands of Socialists and peace activists merely for speaking out. He imprisoned Debs for demanding peace in a legendary speech at Canton, Ohio.
Wilson’s Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer then ran gestapo-style Red Scare raids that killed, maimed and jailed the leadership of the Socialist and radical labor movements. Federal marshals trashed Socialist headquarters, burned union offices, broke warrantless into private homes, terrorized, beat and imprisoned anyone suspected of a trace of leftism. Not until Mussolini and Hitler’s storm troopers took Italy and Germany was there a more brutal putsch anywhere in the west.

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