Eugene V. Deb's Canton Speech, 1918
From Eugene v. Debs's Canton Speech. Chicago: Socialist Party of the United States, 1918.
To speak for labor; to plead the cause of the men and women and children who toil to serve the working class, has always been to me a high privilege; (applause) a duty of love.
I have just returned from a visit over yonder (pointing to the workhouse) (laughter) where three of our most loyal comrades (applause) are paying the penalty for their devotion to the cause of the working class. (Applause.) They have come to realize, as many of us have, that it is extremely dangerous to exercise the constitutional right of free speech in a country fighting to make democracy safe in the world. (Applause.)
I realize that, in speaking to you this afternoon, that there are certain limitations placed upon the right of free speech. I must be exceedingly careful, prudent, as to what I say, and even more careful and more prudent as to how I say it. (Laughter.) I may not be able to say all I think; (laughter and applause) but I am not going to say anything that I do not think. (Applause.) But, I would rather a thousand times be a free soul in jail than to be a sycophant and coward on the streets. (Applause and Shouts.) They may put those boys in jail--and some of the rest of us in jail--but they cannot put the Socialist movement in jail. (Applause and Shouts.) . . .
There is but one thing that you have to be concerned about, and that is that you keep four-square with the principles of the international Socialist movement. (Applause.) It is only when you begin to compromise that trouble begins. (Applause.) So far as I am concerned, it does not matter what others may say, or think, or do, as long as I am sure that I am right with myself and the cause. (Applause.) There are so many who seek refuge in the popular side of a great question. On account of that, I hope, as a Socialist, I have long since learned how to stand alone. (Applause.)
Why should a Socialist be discouraged on the eve of the greatest triumph in all history of the Socialist movement? (Applause.) It is true that these are anxious trying days for us all--testing days for the women and men who are upholding the banner of the of the working class in the struggle of the working class of all the world against the exploiters of the world; (applause) a time in which the weak and cowardly will falter and fail and desert. They lack the fiber to endure the revolutionary test; they fall away; they disappear as if they had never been. On the other hand, they who are animated with the unconquerable spirit of the Social revolution, they who have the moral courage to stand erect and assert their convictions; stand by them; fight for them; go to jail or to hell for them; if need be--(applause and shouts) they are writing their names, in this crucial hour--they are writing their names in fadeless letters in the history of mankind. (Applause.) . . .
Are we opposed to Prussian militarism? (Laughter.) (Shouts from the crowd of "Yes." "Yes.") Why, we have been fighting it since the day the Socialist movement was born; (applause) and we are going to continue to fight it, day and night, until it is wiped from the face of the earth. (thunderous applause and cheers.) Between us there is no truce--no compromise. . . .
Socialism is a growing idea, an expanding philosophy. It is spreading over the face of the earth. It is as useless to resist it as it would be to try to arrest the sunrise on the morrow. It is coming, coming, coming, all along the line. . . . Here, in this assemblage (applause) I hear our heart beat responsive to the Bolsheviki of Russia. (Deafening and prolonged applause.) Yes, those heroic men and women, those unconquerable comrades, who have, by their sacrifice, added luster to the international movement. Those Russian comrades, who have made greater sacrifices, who have suffered more, who have shed more heroic blood than any like men or number of men and women anywhere else on earth, they have laid the foundation of the first real Democracy that ever drew--(great applause) the first real Democracy that ever drew the breath of life on God's footstool. (Applause.) And the very first act of that immortal revolution was to proclaim a state of peace with all the world, coupled with an appeal, no to the kings, not to the emperors, not to the rulers, not to the diplomats, but an appeal to the people of all nations. (Applause.) There is the very birth of Democracy, the quintessence of freedom. They made their appeal to the people of all nations, the Allies as well as the Central powers, to send representatives to a conference to lay down terms of peace that should be Democratic and lasting. Here was a fine--here was a fine opportunity to strike a blow to make democracy safe in the world. (Applause.) Was there any response to that noble appeal? And here let me say that that appeal will be written in letters of gold in the history of the world. (Applause.) Was there any response to that appeal? (From the crowd "No.") Not the slightest. . . .
Wars have been waged for conquest, for plunder. In the middle ages the feudal lords, who inhabited the castles whose towers may still be seen along the Rhine--whenever one of those feudal lords wished to enrich himself, then he made war on another. Why? They wanted to enlarge their domains. They wanted to increase their power, their wealth, and so they declared war upon each other. But they did not go to war any more than the Wall Street junkers go to war. (Applause.) The feudal lords, the barons, the economic predecessors of the modern capitalist, they declared all the wars. Who fought their battles? Their miserable serfs. And the serfs had been taught to believe that when their masters declared and waged war upon one another, it was their patriotic duty to fall upon one another, and to cut one another's throats, to murder one another for the profit and the glory of the plutocrats, the barons, the lords who held them in contempt. And that is war in a nutshell. The master class has always declared the war; the subject class has always fought the battles; the master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, and the subject class has had nothing to gain and all to lose--including their lives. (Applause.) They have always taught you that it is your patriotic duty to go to war and to have yourselves slaughtered at a command. But in all of the history of the world you, the people, never had a voice in declaring war. You have never yet had. And here let me state a fact--and it cannot be repeated too often: the working class who fight the battles, the working class who make the sacrifices, the working class who shed the blood, the working class who furnish the corpses, the working class have never yet had a voice in declaring war. The working class have never yet had a voice in making peace. It is the ruling class that does both. They declare war; they make peace.
"Yours not to ask the question why; Yours but to do and die."
That is their motto, and we object on the part of the awakened workers.
If war is right, let it be declared by the people--you, who have your lives to lose; you certainly ought to have the right to declare war, if you consider war a necessary. (Applause.) . . .
If the war was over tomorrow, all of the prison doors would open. They just want to silence this voice during the war. The cases will be appealed, and they will remain pending in court many a month, perhaps years. What a compliment it is to the Socialist movement for telling the truth. The truth will make the people free. (Applause.) And the truth must not be permitted to reach the people. The truth has always been dangerous to the rule of the rogue, the exploiter, the robber. So the truth must be suppressed. That is why they are trying to drive out the Socialist movement; and every time they make the attempt, they add ten thousand voices proclaiming that Socialism has come to stay. (Applause.). . .
What you need is to organize, not along curved lines, but along revolutionary industrial lines. (Applause.) You will never vote in the Socialist republic. You are needed to organize it; and you have got to organize it in the industries--unite in the industries. the industrial union is the forerunner of industrial Democracy. In the shop is where the industrial Democracy has its beginning. Organize according to the industries, and minimize all the Gompers. Get together. United, very often your power becomes invincible. Organize to get up to your fullest capacity. Organize. Act together. And when you organize industrially, you will soon learn that you can manage industry as well as operate industry. You can soon find that you don't need the idle for your masters. They are simply parasites. They don't give you work. You give them jobs taking what you produce and that is all. Their function is to take what you produce. You can dispose of them. You don't need then to depend upon for your jobs. You ought to own your own tools; you ought to control your own jobs; you ought to be industrial free men instead of industrial slaves. Organize industrially. Make the organization complete. Then unite in the Socialist party. . . . Then, when we vote together and act together on the industrial pledge, we will develop the supreme power of the one class that can bring permanent peace to the world. We will have the courage. Industry will be organized. We will conquer the public power. We will transfer the title deeds of the railroads, the telegraph lines, the mills, the great industries--we will transfer them to the people; we will take possession in the name of the people. We will have industrial political Democracy. We will be the first free nation, whose government belongs to the people. Oh, this change will be universal; it will be permanent; it looks towards the light; it paves the way to emancipation. . . .
Yes, we are going to sweep into power in this nation and in every other nation on earth. We are going to destroy the capitalist institutions; we are going to recreate them as legally free institutions. Before you very eyes the world is being destroyed. The world of capitalism is collapsing; the world of Socialism is rising.
It is your duty to help build. We need builders of industry. Builders are necessary. We Socialists are the builders of the world that is to be. We are all agreed to do our part. We are inviting--aye, challenging you this afternoon, in the name of your own manhood, to join us. Help do your part. In due course of time the hour will strike, and this great cause--the greatest in history--will proclaim the emancipation of the working class and the brotherhood of all mankind. (Thunderous and prolonged applause.)
Houghton Mifflin Company