tv Discussion on Socialism in Early 20th Century America CSPAN August 4, 2016 10:26pm-11:42pm EDT
contenders, key figures that ran for the presidency and lost and changed history. the democratic nominee, al smith and sunday, the 1940 republican nominee, wendell willkie. store windows had pictures of my opponent and his associate on the new deal ticket. i don't know of any more appropriate place to put those pictures. for a complete american history tv schedule, go to c-span.org. next, columbia university history professor eric foner discusses the rise of socialism in america in the early 20th century.
and the socialist party of america presidential campaigns of eugene debbs, this class is an hour and ten minutes. >> this is a class at columbia university, a course called "the american radical tradition," and we started with the american revolution and have been going through the abolitionist movement, early femininism, the civil war reconstruction, labor conflict in the gilded age, the populist movement and now we're sort of entering into the 20th century and in the next couple of weeks, we will look at the progressive era, a period of, you know, a lot of labor unrest, the industrial workers of the world, the women's suffrage movement coming to the fore, municipal reform, many other things, but today, our subject is the -- or the socialist party, the rise of socialism as a key element of american radicalism in the early 20th century. on our reading list, the chapter
by michael kaizen gives a good quick summary on the various kinds of socialism at the time. from 1860 onward, there had been some kind of socialist presence in the united states but largely confined to immigrants from europe, particularly germans, english. the emergence of a mass socialist movement with a real base in the american political system followed the final you might say flowering of the 19th
century radical tradition in the 1880s and '90s and the defeat of the populist party in the 190s. the inheritors of 19th century radicalism were forced to kind of think about new ways of confronting the problems and the inequities of the, you know, rapidly changing industrial society of that time. now, it's often said by people who write about the history of socialism that american socialism was particularly untheoretical, unlike the european or other kinds of socialism, very, very few americans produced theoretical works about this. many more socialists here were influenced by their experience in populism or the bellamy movement remember or the just the experience of the labor movement than by reading karl marx's capital or other works like that. nonetheless, by the turn of the century, all socialism and there were many varieties as you'll see, in some way or another derived from the thinking and writings of karl marx, although interpreted in very different ways. one could give a whole course on karl marx which i'm not going to do, but what people learned from marx was that is first of all history is the history of class struggle. the struggle between classes is the driving force of history he
claimed that under capitalism the society is being divided inexrably into two classes the working class and the owning class. production is inevitably being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. giant corporations and the gap between the -- what i guess today they call the 1% and the 99%, the gap between the rich and everyone else would inevitably get wider and wider. some of this resonates, of course, to the present day. 30 years of the administrations of ronald reagan and bush and clinton and bush and obama have done more to confirm marx's prediction of the rich getting richer and everyone else falling behind than all the years of
soviet yien yun perhaps. what was appealing to marx, in marx was that at the time, remember, of this dominant free contract of ideology that the supreme court and others were implementing, social darwinism, the idea that the marketplace is just a site where equal participants compete and the result is best for all, marx kind of pierces through to the underpinning of the labor market and labor relations and shows that it's based on inequality, exploitation and wage earners not getting what they deserve, something that of course had been an idea floating around american radicalism for a long time. by what was different about him, he insisted that capitalism was inevitably creating the instrument of its own
destruction. that is what he called the proliteriate, workers. not because they were better than anyone else, because of the very nature of their social existence, made them pushed toward changing the whole system. they cannot boll issue their own conditions of life without bo boll -- abolishing all of the human conditions of society. after that, there was a flurry of rediscovery of karl marx. after the millennium of 2000, there was an article about marx,
why? because he is the prophet of globalizedd capitalized. he sees it as a system. not as bad individuals. not trusts. you know. corrupting the political system. the system itself has a logic which has to be understood. and in a way, you can put marx and many people do in the same category of thinker as let's say darwin. darwin tried to understand the underlying principles of the natural world or freud a little later trying to understand the underlying principles of the internal human mind. marx is trying to understand is the underlying principles of the economic system, the economic world. and the first principle is as he
says, i'm just going to read you a couple of sentences from the communist manifesto of 1848 where he lays out many, many more socialists read the communist manifesto which is a political polemic, highly oversimplified than waded through the three ultra dense volumes of das capital. what did they find when they turned to this manifesto? first they found that the revolutionary element in the world is capitalism. capitalism, the bourgeois cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production and with them the whole relations of society. conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form was the first condition of existence for earlier industrial classes. constant revolutionizing of production uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions is what characterizes the present world he says. all frozen relations are swept
away, all new formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify and then, of course, this often quoted sentence, all that is solid melts into air. that is our condition right now, all that is solid melts into air. that's the essence of the system, the constant revolutionizing of everything. so there's no nostalgia here though. marx is not like earlier radicals trying to go back to a previous golden age. there is no previous golden age and the nature of life now is just this constant change of everything. and then as i say, it's not a national system. the need for a constantly expanding market chases the bourgeois over the whole surface of the globe. it must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere. the bourgeois has through its exploitation of its world market given a cosmopaulten character
to production in every country. national industry is destroyed he says. this is 1848. national industrial destroyed? it's just getting going. today, that's what's happening, of course. national industry is destroyed by the forces of globalization. this is more than 150 years later. all established national industries are being destroyed or are daily being destroyed. moreover in the place of old wants satisfied by the needs of the country we find new wants requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climbs. national one-sidedness becomes more and more impossible. in other words, this is a global system, a global world, a global interchange, and that's good. this is not a critique. that is good. that is part of the progress of history. because capitalism is creating the conditions in which a humane life is possible. it is overcoming the barriers of nature and population to massive production that the possibility
for an equal or fair distribution of wealth around the world is for the first time created by advanced capitalism, he says. many people who read the communist manifesto are very surprised that most of it is based on praising capitalism for sweeping away all these old systems that are an obstacle to progress. marx, many of the people who followed marx thought of him as scientific. later on it's called scientific socialism because he's trying to understand a system, but there are very few predictions in marx. much of his writing is analytical, not predictive. and his predictions change over time. even though there is a tealology, what i mean is that history is moving in a certain direction, it's not inevitable by any means, although later readers would see it as kind of
an inexorable process to a predetermined end. in the 1880s, the american labor journalist john swinton went to england and interviewed marx, karl marx and he asked marx, what do you see for the future? what do you see for the future? and marx thought for a minute and answered in one word, struggle. the future will see struggle. he didn't say the end of that struggle is inevitable. he didn't say what that struggle is going to lead to. that's what he saw. so but as we'll see in a minute, many people saw in marxism a kind of way of predicting the future which i think is not really the essence of what he's talking about, but the point is that the whole analysis suggested that once you marry the productive capacity, the radical productive capacity of socialism to a more equitable distribution and a more democratic control of the economy, it's a utopian world. i mean it's sort of like bellamy
in a way, his utopian world, a world of equality. socialism appealed to people on an ethical level as much as on a kind of ethical level. it was an unbounded dream. they promised people would be ten feet tall under socialism. the italian socialist labreola said all children would grow up to be galileos under socialism. and marx had shown according to people who followed him that it was inevitable in a way, not exactly inevitable, but it was the process of history, would go in that direction. but ultimately, especially in the united states, the ultimate appeal of socialism is ethical, moral, as much as analytical and economic. socialism said eugene debs,
capitalism, said debs, is simply wrong. the vast inequality is simply wrong. there's a kind of christian underlying, you know, notion of morality beneath the sort of scientific analysis. well, anyway, in the 1890s, we mentioned this last time, the main expression of socialism in the u.s. was the tiny socialist labor party headed by daniel deleon who i mentioned last time. deleon a very strange and difficult guy, was one of the first actually to think in the united states of some of the modern problems of radicalism. the rise of mass culture, what does that mean for alternative? already you're getting mass newspapers and magazines and things like that. what should radicals do in a society where you know, a certain dominant culture, this goes back to goodwin is kind of permeating the society. well he concluded that the way to do that is to form an
uncompromisingly radical party of workers, a political party which would work with radical unions to mobilize workers to get them to think in a radical way. not a new idea, but he also concluded that the entire labor movement was basically an obstacle to this. particularly the american federation of labor, which he said was dominated by what he called labor fakers who -- and that the role, the immediate role of socialist said deleon was to destroy the existing labor movement and create new radical unions. well you can imagine that the existing unions were not too happy with the notion that the role of socialism was to first destroy their unions and some of them had joined the socialist labor party in the 1890s and then they said, well, wait a minute, why is my political party trying to destroy the
union that i'm working with? so many of them left rather quickly, but deleon was as i say, his views actually we'll see next time would influence the industrial workers of the world which attempted to mobilize or organize those mass production workers which the american federation of labor had left out. but when the socialist party of america is founded in 1901, deleon and his little group is the one group of socialists who remain outside, who are not really part of this group. so who does come together in 1901 to form this umbrella group called the socialist party of america? well, a conglomeration of people. after the defeat of brian in 1896, remember, some bellamyites, followers of eugene debs and others had formed a group called the brotherhood of the cooperative commonwealth and
had a plan to move en masse to some western state with limited population and basically take over the state by people moving in. they thought maybe they would plant colonies in the state of washington or something. didn't really get anywhere, but that's sort of the old communetarian you know ethos, but this group the brotherhood of the cooperative commonwealth is part of the -- part of the socialist party. many people who were disaffected by the failure of populism come in, quite a few labor unions, the american railroad union of debs, mine workers, others come in. in 1901 under this umbrella, they form the socialist party of america, a very small group, but within a decade or so, 1912 or up to world war i, this is really the point here. between 1901 and world war i, which breaks out in 1914, but the use doesn't enter until 1917 socialism grows to become a significant part of the political discourse in the
united states. a factor in american life. not a majority but any means, of course, but not a fringe sectarian group as it would later become. and the first thing we have to do to think about this is to remember my admonition which i've mentioned before to read history forward, not backward. you cannot understand the socialist party of the pre-world war i period without in a sense forgetting about world war i, the russian revolution, the cold war, and many, many other things that happen in the history of socialism and then communism which will split socialism into sectarian groups which will
discredit it in many ways in the eyes of people but nobody knows that's coming in the period from 1901 to 1914 or 1917. today, socialism to the extent that it exists at all in our political discourse is just an all-purpose term of abuse, right? you hear on tv, obama is a socialist, rht? what do the people who say that mean? they don't actually understand either obama or socialism. it's just a way of saying i don't like obama. so you know, i don't like this thing that he's done, that thing that he's done, fair enough but to call him a socialist is absurd, but nonetheless that is what the term -- so we have to go back before that, before all these events of the 20th century to understand in its own context socialism of the early 20th century and it's difficult to do because the historical literature doesn't help us all that much. liberal historians which is probably the majority think
socialism is kind of really irrelevant because the real story is the rise of 20th century liberalism from woodrow wilson through the new deal of franklin d. roosevelt and then onto the great society, et cetera. that's the trajectory and socialism is just irrelevant next to that. on the other hand, communist historians who wrote in the 1930s, '40s, '50s, saw the socialist party in lacking in revolutionary fervor. it seemed kind of moderate and mild compared to the radicalism of communists later on so they didn't think much of it either. but the fact is as i say, that i a broadly based socialist movement did exist in america in the two decades coming up to world war i. at the height of their influence, the socialist party had 150,000 dues-paying members.
today to be a member of a political party, you just register and vote in the primary. but these were people who paid dues to the socialist party. there were hundreds of socialist newspapers scattered around the country. debs as we see in a minute in 1912 polled nearly a million votes running for president in the four-way presidential election of 1912. more than a thousand public local public officials were elected by the socialist party from places like bridgeport, connecticut, to milwaukee, congressmen from new york, mostly in the industrial areas but also in the west, local socialist legislators, et cetera, mayors, et cetera, et cetera. and when the afl, the american federation of labor had their annual conventions, at least one-third of the unions were headed by people who called themselves socialists of one kind or another. moreover, the socialist party as i say, was not a narrow fringe. it was a kind of umbrella
through which in which many people passed or took part who were connected to other major movements at the time. women's suffrage, for example, connected to the socialist party in some ways. municipal reform, labor legislation of this era. demands for public ownership of utilities like streetcar lines and gas works and things like that. in other words, it was a broad, amorphous in many ways all-encompassing party, and many leading figures at the time either were in it or or connected to it or sort of sympathetic in some way or another. the idea of socialism was a rather vague idea to many people, but it was part of the political discourse. now, as i say, the socialist
party had many diverse elements and there was often tension between them, but before looking at that, and often it's described as left versus right. radical versus reformer or whatever you want to call it within the socialist party, but what held the party together? what did they hold in common? one central thread which does take us back into the radical tradition of the 19th century was a faith in education as the way to build a mass socialist movement. marx wrote of socialist in the communist manifesto as a revolutionary doctrine, but the socialists were not basically revolutionaries although a few of them used its rhetoric. they thought the way social change would come was by education, by convincing people, by you could convince people to be socialists by talking to them, by giving them things to read, et cetera, et cetera. as long as you did it in the language of american society, not in this european jargon, as
many socialists said. a leading socialist writer of the time says too long our socialist writings have been gs a leading socialist writer of the time says too long our socialist writings have been made up by the application of german metaphysics to theory -- english economic theory with a french vocabulary. the great task of socialist writers for the next two years is is to interpret american experience in the language and style which will appeal to the american people in a sort of straightforward, common sense, he said nontheoretical, noneuropean language. and simons himself tries to do this in some actually not uninteresting works of american history. simons in 1905 i think it is publishes the first socialist history of the united states called "class struggles in american history," which is written in a very popular manner and is essentially a kind of, in
a way, it's borrowed from frederick jackson turner, who had developed the frontier thesis in the 1890s, and you know, saw american history starting in a very democratic mode and then eventually with the end of the frontier and the rise of big corporations, great inequality, and you know, leading up to some kind of socialist movement. but that's his effort to bring socialism to people in that kind of language. but the notion of education, though, is broader than that. it is -- and we should understand this actually being in a great university like this. socialists, marxists saw themselves as heirs of the western tradition. this is hard to understand when today people see socialist ideas as kind of alien. this is -- they were the heirs of the enlightenment, they felt. the heirs of the western tradition and the socialism was
part of the legacy of the enlightenment. the rationale, the effort to analyze society rationally. and to understand it and to try to improve it. back in the 1980s -- i can't remember the name of this. there was one of these french movies really boring, you know, a bunch of guys sitting around talking for two hours, that's it. that's the movie. i mean, low budget true, but still -- i kind of like these movies, but anyway, this was about the so-called new philosophers of that time and one was asked in the movie by the narrator, do you think marx is dead? his answer, i thought, was interesting. he said, well, if marx is dead that means shakespeare is dead, einstein is dead and i'm not feeling all that well myself. in other words, this is part of an intellectual heritage. doesn't mean you have to accept it or not accept it, but you have to know it, you have to learn it to find out what it is,
and indeed the socialist press, even though we're talking about americanizing it, publish articles not only about tom payne and other radicals but about gerta, about aristotle, about plato. education of workers is a general education. it's not just -- i won't even -- since we're on tv, i won't even comment on the notion that's floating around in our political discourse today that people really don't need to go to college and learn anything, you know. socialists believe they did need to learn. even ordinary workers had a right to learn the best in the western tradition, and in political thought, and in culture. high culture. they believed in high culture, not popular culture. culture to them was high culture. in fact, now, see we're getting now to the point of where my own family history begins to intersect with the rest of history. and i once asked my mother who
grew up in this world of new york city socialism about the yiddish theater and you know, and she came from a socialist family immigrants from russia and did you go to the yiddish theater as a kid? she said the yiddish theater? no, we went to see shakespeare. we didn't want to go to the yiddish theater. now, shakespeare was actually done in yiddish in some of those theaters. but in other words, the notion of high culture that, this is part of what people are entitled to. it can be rather condescending toward other, you know, the socialists didn't have much interest in like let's say other expressions like african-american culture which is a thriving you know american product of our society. they weren't that interested in that. it was more this higher enlightenment version of civilization. but that study to them insisted that in fact, what marx had suggested was happening,
monopolies, corporations were consolidating, working class life was pretty bad in the early 20th century. socialism was coming. that was the study. when exactly how, they didn't know, but all these socialists sort of held that view of education and progress with a capital "p." now, the differences in the socialist party are sometimes, i say described as left versus right or maybe it's more you know political action versus other action. in a way, the same debate that took place among the abolitionists. how do you operate to change society, right? you know, do you work within the system for immediate reform? or do you try to make a standard of radical reform and not accept compromise? what is the relationship between immediate change and long-term goals? and nobody has ever really solved this, but they all have
debated it. the problem in the u.s. is exacerbated by the fact that the official labor movement, the american federation of labor headed by gompers is becoming more and more conservative at this time. now, if you believe that the working class is the agent of change, well, how do you deal with a conservative labor movement? do you just try to destroy it or do you try to work with it in some way, or do you try to build another labor movement like the industrial workers of the world does, which we'll see next time? so the more moderate socialists wanted to make socialism relevant to the everyday life of ordinary people by stressing immediate reforms. the socialist party platform 1904, 1908, 1912, kind of fudged this by demanding both immediate reforms and long-term radical change. so for example, the socialist
platform includes issues like public ownership of the railroads, free university education, not a bad idea, aid to the unemployed, government unemployed assistance, some of these have come about, right? the initiative referendum and recall, these progressive era reforms which would try to give people, ordinary people more say in how government operates. but they also said at the same time the class struggle is irreconcilable and the ultimate aim is to completely transform society, get rid of capitalism and have a socialist society in which the means of production are controlled by a democratic state. the more conservative, the so-called right wing socialists were, you might say, evolutionists like they were like bellamy that this will just happen. you can read marx to say we don't really have to do much. capitalism is evolving in this direction. let's just wait for it to
happen, right? it's the inexorable process of the system itself, so there's no need for a revolution or anything like that. capitalism will just evolve into something better, so the trick is to just help it along, so to speak. this is what kazin talks about as a theology. as i said, the notion of history inexorably evolving in a particularly known direction. now, this so-called moderate or right wing socialists, the two the great centers were new york city and milwaukee. since we are here in new york city, let's look a little bit at this great socialist culture that are emerged in new york city in the pre-world war i era. centered in german and particularly jewish immigrants, immigrants from the czarist empire who came in very large numbers in the 1890s and early 20th century.
the foundation of jewish socialism was the super exploitation of the jewish working class. the garment workers, cloak-makers, women workers in factories, in sweat shops. the leaders were professional people like morris hillquit, louis bu dean, these were writers, lawyers, hillquit had graduated from nyu law school. these the leaders were quite familiar with marx, they had studied him and interpreted him to mean that a revolution doesn't just come along. it's a slow process and that the goal is to just propagate socialist ideas and run socialist candidates for office. that's the way you educate people. you run candidates for office. here's a wonderful little cartoon from a yiddish newspaper of that time, here is karl marx sort of as moses, right, leading the children of israel into the
promised land of socialism. so you're absorbing marx into this jewish heritage, right, this yiddish radical heritage somewhat brought over from russia in hebrew, you know, or in the yiddish language so there's marx leading the children of israel to the promised land. and new york city is a time here -- in new york city, the -- as i say, the -- i'm going to give you one other picture here. the workers, the working women, here's women in a sweat shop, okay? i'm not even sure what year this is, but the large numbers of immigrant women, actually a lot of italian women too working in these sweat shops at sewing machines, just producing clothing all the time, day and night for tiny wages and you know, their situation is the kind of seed bed of the rise of
socialist organization and the labor movement, the ilgw, the garment workers union and others. the lower eastside, that's where the, you know, in the year 1920, so many immigrants were living in manhattan, the year 1920, it the population density of manhattan was greater than the city of calcutta in india. there were -- there were like almost three times as many people living on manhattan island then than there are now. over 2 million people living on this little island. packed in densely mostly into these working class districts way, way downtown. the lower east side elected meyer london, a socialist, to congress in 1914. again, london, another guy speaking the language of socialism in the american tradition. says london, just as the parties which preceded the civil war,
see, remember how much the abolition of slavery shapes this thinking of later radicals. just as the numerous parties which preceded the civil war had the abolition of chattel slavery as its issue, parties today divide on the issue whether the industrial oligarchy shall survive and democracy perish or whether the republic will survive and wage slavery perish. the socialist movement is the abolitionist movement of the 20th century. great quote, the socialist of -- the socialist movement is the abolitionist movement of the 20th century. this is about as american as you can get in terms of the trajectory of american radicalism. but in new york city, and not only in the lower east side, also up in yorkville, the upper east side, which was a heavily german population at that time, and not even -- even some other districts, a full, vibrant
socialist counterculture developed. something like goodwin talked about vis-a-vis the populists. based on massive labor unrest, you had the strikes of 20,000 women garment workers in 1919 -- in 1909, strike of 50,000 male cloak workers in 1911, i think. and many, many other strikes in new york city, which became kind of outpourings of community or inspired outpourings of community support. here's a description of 1916, the streetcar drivers went on strike in new york city, you know, we used to be crisscrossed with these street cars before the building of all the subways. the parade of striking streetcar workers from uptown, yorkville, like 86th and lexington down to union square, 14th street, as they left yorktown, relatives and friends of the marchers cheered for two hours. great throngs lined madison and
fourth avenue and the head of the line reached the cloak- making district below 34th, the windows of the factories were black with workers. men ceased work on buildings to cheer as the car men passed. teamsters parked their wagons on the side streets. even the policemen grinned and openly manifested their pleasure at the parade. this was an era of constant parades it seems in new york city. there were election parades. there were eight-hour day parades with musical entertainment from around the world like the marseille of france and things like that. there was a protest parade of over 100,000 people in 1911 after one of the great disasters of this era which last year had its 100th anniversary, the triangle fire. down in greenwich village where over 100 -- i think 146 young
women, jewish and italian, were killed when a fire broke out in this triangle shirt waist factory, which was on the top couple of floors of an eight or nine-story building. this is a picture i like because it's not, it doesn't seem very dramatic. it's just people looking up at this fire, but these are the dead bodies of women who had leaped to avoid the flames and are now lying on the ground, you know, fell eight stories because the ladders on the fire trucks would only reach up to the fifth floor. they could not rescue anyone. the triangle fire led to the first serious efforts in new york to regulate conditions of work. the city and state moving in to begin the process of actually trying to make sure safety, you know, safe working conditions and things like that. but as i say, it kind of galvanized a tremendous protest in new york city.
now the socialist party also, this was an era of different -- there were no tv, as you all know, no internet, no big campaign ads. people campaigned door to door and on street corners. the socialist party was very adept as what they called street-corner speaking. and the socialist press in new york, the new york call for example, the daily newspaper, published commentaries on different street corners and what should you say on these street corners you know what kind of people live around there. how do you spread the message. well, for example, 96th and second avenue over on the east side, theoretical and marxian speeches don't go down well on this corner. keep it simple. 35th and broadway, the nonreligious character of the socialist party should be hammered home in this district and then one irish neighborhood they're talking about, religious discussions no matter how well conducted have no place in propaganda meetings here.
kill capitalism. let the other fellow kill god. right, don't worry about that, just deal with capitalism. don't get into the religious controversies, okay? one of the most popular street corner speakers in new york for the socialists was a guy named gerald m. fitzgibbon. gerald fitzgibbon, and this is an account of fitzgibbon as a speaker, a memoir from that period. fitzgibbon, the street corner speaker, never used mysterious phrases. for one hour he was funny, much funnier than any vaudeville act when he described how the rich lived, the audience nearly died laughing. when he described how the poor suffered, they laughed too. he would start with a working man getting up at dawn to go to work, his sloppy breakfast, the dingy streetcar, the filthy shop, the fat foreman, the hasty lunch, the weary afternoon, the
ride home. the rush -- the hungry wife and kids, the noise of the street, six days of it, work, work, work. work, eat, sleep, work, eat, sleep. whatever marx may have said, fitzgibbon knew his stuff. this was just the way my friends' fathers lived, like dogs. and when the audience was tired of laughing he would shout fools, how long will you stand this slavery and then he went on to explain "the economics of capitalism." the trouble was, the people who worked were robbed by the people who owned the means of production and lived on the wealth produced by those who operated the means of production. clear. what was the solution? abolish the system. turn the private ownership of the mines, railways and factories over to the people. very simple. fitzgibbon was a very popular speaker obviously. so the point is, here in new york, socialism was a movement that transcended the division between workplace and public
place. it existed in the public as well as in the shop. it transcended ethnic boundaries, not all, some irish, fitzgibbon himself, not that many but many of the immigrant ethnic groups were attracted to the socialist party, and this is very important, in terms of -- it was internationalists. internationalists, socialism is the first american radical movement that thinks of itself fully as part of an international movement. now remember, the abolitionists had connections with england. they were transatlantic, no question about it. women's suffrage advocates back and forth, but the socialists were global in a sense. the socialist newspapers talks about the irish struggle for independence. they talked about india and anti-colonialism. they talked about russian revolution when it happened. they talked about the liberation of the jews in the need for the liberation of the jews in the
czarist empire. they taught people that they were part of a worldwide movement. a worldwide problem. so they spoke an american language but it was not a kind of exceptionalism which said we are so superior to everybody else that we don't have to think about anything that's happening in other countries. and they did, despite what i said, bridge the gap between high culture and maybe a middle culture. many writers were associated with the socialists. they had public events. isadora duncan, for example, you know, pioneer of the 20th century dance. you would not have dance as it exists today without isadora duncan, came to new york from california and gave benefit performances for the socialist party. they were at the cutting edge, so to speak, of culture as well as of, you know, of political thought.
there was even, believe it or not, a socialist presence at columbia university. here's an article from the "new york times," january 15th, 1911. staid columbia shelter socialists. professor boyson is one. i don't know who this guy was. but here's what it says about professor boyson. a professor at columbia was lecturing at one of the smaller new england colleges. he made in the course of his remarks some somewhat radical observations. after the lecture, one of the other professors came to discuss his theories with him. i would have been surprised, said this gentleman, to hear a college professor setting forth such ideas except that you are from columbia. we all know how radical columbia men are. no women at columbia at that time. and then he goes on, i'll finish. the university is not radical. the president and the trustees are perfectly prepared to stand
in the old paths and for an indefinite period. but there are these radical and not only that, when eugene debs spoke on socialism before the students at columbia, the audience that wanted to hear him was so large that none of the university halls was big enough. so socialism had a presence even in the oddest places. all right. so the other great center of what is called moderate right wing whatever kind of socialism, non revolutionary, was milwaukee. milwaukee, wisconsin. the leader there was a man named victor berger. german born, a teacher, politician, newspaper editor, who in the 1890s had formed the social democratic society of milwaukee with close ties to the populist movement and the trade union, the american federation of labor trade unions in milwaukee.
and brought his group into the socialist party in 1901. and berger said what socialists have to do is win the allegiance of the unions, the trade unions. particularly the skilled craft unions. and to win election in local offices. now, that's the way to get to socialism. win the confidence of unions, run candidates for office. and when you get into office, you govern in a good way and you win people's confidence. again, it's an evolutionary process. we educate, he says. we enlighten. we reason. besides order, we also bring law, reason, discipline, and progress. in other words, socialism offers a way out of the conflict that is racking american society. we bring law, reasoned discipline. berger disliked talk of revolution. the social democrats he said do not expect success from a revolution that is a riot. he sees revolution as just a
kind of aimless riot, a bigger or smaller riot, but from a real revolution, the revolution of mind, you convince people, that is a revolution. not just taking to the streets he says. and the social democrats refused to break off the thread of history at any one place. history is an evolution. it's a seamless web. it doesn't just break at a certain place as people advocate getting revolution want says berger. berger offered socialism as i say, as a way to prevent class conflict from degenerating into barbarism, as had happened in caesar's column. remember the great book of donnelly which ends with the world being destroyed by a class uprising. socialism is a way to avoid that and have a peaceful evolution to a better society. moreover, the concentration of industry was creating the conditions for socialism.
capitalism was doing the socialist work. it was bringing more and more production under fewer and fewer hands and eventually you just take it over and that will be the end of that. moreover, he said socialism is an economic change. it's not a social change. he was unlike the new york socialist who were rather tied in with the women's movement, berger is a very strict family man. patriarchal, the socialist family will be upstanding with the man, the head of the family and the women at home. he's rather racist. he's certainly anti-black and there are very few blacks in milwaukee at that time, but he can use racist language like any other politician at this time. and milwaukee is the best example of what is called municipal socialism. that's socialism at the city level. the socialists win control of milwaukee. seidel is elected as mayor of milwaukee for the socialist party.
and they actually govern quite well, in fact, ironically, the credit rating of milwaukee rises under the socialist administration. why? because unlike the main parties, they're not stealing everything. they're not a -- they're not corrupt. they're not a political machine. they're not ripping off everything. if you loan money to the socialist government, you're likely to get it back, and so people are impressed with his honesty. seidel is re-elected not because everyone's a socialist, but because he ran a good, honest, municipal government. but he also provides aid to the unemployed, he arbitrates strikes. he refuses to allow the police to intimidate strikers. they improve public health. this is very typical progressive era urban reform. trying to get control of the chaotic situation of the new industrial cities and the socialist party is part of that movement in many cities. schenectady, new york, reading, pennsylvania. bridgeport.
you can run down city after city in which socialist administrations come to power and basically operate as progressive-era reformers. many other socialists said, this is not good enough. walter lippmann, a great journalist, starting out at this time as a writer, as a socialist, says, if socialists are to make anything of political action, we have to distinguish ourselves from the progressives. we have to at least cut the returns to property. in other words, try to cut down on the profits of business. but, no, they didn't try to do that. they tried to run a good, honest government based on the skilled unions, the afl unions, the native born white -- it's, you know, it's an old-fashioned kind of working class, particularly german immigrants and their children, which is governing in milwaukee. and in other cities. now, berger's position is anathema as to what we call the
left of the socialist party. industrial unionists like bill haywood, we'll talk about him next time who say, no, what socialists have to do is organize the unorganized workers. the unskilled workers. the workers on the factory floor. the workers who are left out of the american federation of labor skilled, skilled organizations. lift up the lowest ranks of labor. haywood said the socialists -- milwaukee is not socialist. they're just middle class reformers. they're no different than anyone else. the left was strongest, first of all, in places where socialism is weaker, where there's no chance of winning elections. you may tend to gravitate toward a more ideologically pure and radical position. particularly in the west. haywood comes out of the west,
the mining regions of colorado, idaho, et cetera. some of the old populist regions. those are the centers of the left wing, so to speak, of the socialist party. they said the problems we have to address are those of the unskilled worker, the small farmer, the new immigrant and the new factory proletarian. electing people to office is not the solution. the left insisted more on workplace conflict. that was how to improve, you know, to increase socialist commitment and, you know, change society. not by electing people to office. again, they were strong in these mining areas, the timber workers of places like washington and oregon. these were places where the class struggle was raw, really raw. right in your face. mines, you know, pretty violent. timber workers living in these isolated communities, often with, you know, bitter labor struggles.
unlike in the east where workers were, you might almost say, have made an accommodation with capitalism through the afl, et cetera. debs, when he ran for president in 1912, got one-third of his vote west of the mississippi river. that's where the -- the trans-mississippi west. that's where the centers of more radical socialism are. the strongest was actually oklahoma. not a state we tend to associate today with socialist proclivities. but that's where debs did the best. that's where the populist tradition flows into the early socialist party where farm tenancy is very rapid, is very extensive. and remember, oklahoma is a sort of segregated state, but it had not been part of the old confederacy. it doesn't have the kind of weight of the civil war sitting on political alignments the way states like louisiana or georgia, et cetera, you know, making it difficult for any insurgency.
oklahoma gave debs 16%. one-sixth of the vote. in 1912. in fact, debs was very popular among the prisoners in oklahoma. the warden of the state penitentiary in oklahoma took a poll and found that a majority of the white prisoners voted for debs. a majority of the black prisoners still would have voted for the republicans, the party of lincoln. the other stronghold, as i say, of the left are up there in the states like montana, washington, idaho, nevada. all those states debs got over 10% of the vote from mine workers, timber workers, people like that. these westerners were suspicious of the -- what they considered the excessive respectability of eastern socialists.
like berger or like the new york city socialists. for example, in 1912, the national convention of the socialist party was held in indianapolis, and jacob panken, a jewish delegate from new york city had arranged to have a dinner with a group of oregon delegates, and they kind of walked around indianapolis looking for an appropriate restaurant. panken saw a place, looked pretty nice. why don't we go in there? the oregonians said, no, no, we're not going in a place with tablecloths. too bourgeois, no tablecloths for us. so they finally picked a place called the red devil, not for its cuisine, for its name which sort of sounded kind of radical. but, so the ballot, in the east they thought at least you could, to elect people, you would, you know, if you controlled municipal governments you could at least prevent the police from being used against strikes, et
cetera, but the westn socialists distrusted these victories in milwaukee and as not really -- not really socialist in essence. finally, standing with one foot in each camp and the only leader around whom the socialists could unite nationally was eugene debs, the greatest of all the socialist leaders. here is debs addressing a very large crowd. he's way over on the left there, in chicago. in chicago. yeah. i'm not sure what part. this is in a park in chicago. debs speaking to a large, large crowd. debs was a symbol of both the class consciousness and the idealism of socialism. he came out of the american railroad union, remember, which had suffered the great defeat in 1894 of its national strike
because of the use of federal troops and injunctions. debs and gompers, the two leading labor figures of the 1890s, went their separate ways. they both confronted devastating defeats in the 1890s. gompers via the amalgamated association and homestead, remember, the crushing of the craft union. debs through defeat of the american railroad union. they drew two different conclusions. gompers drew the conclusion, you have to make a deal, so to speak. you can't fight the system. you have to work within it. debs went toward socialism. he was not a socialist in the 1890s. he became a socialist because the only way to confront the power of the corporations was to use political power against them. that was the only countervailing power in the society. use the power of the state to confront the power of the corporations. both of them in their own way
reflect the exhaustion of the earlier types of radicalism. debs was a democrat. a genuine democrat with a small "d." a -- he was a leader. he believed he was a leader, but he says, i would not -- in one speech he says, i would not lead you to the promised land if i could, because if i could lead you in, someone else can lead you out. movements are not made by leaders. change is not made by leaders. it's made by mass organization, he says. and he's willing to be the spokesman for that. debs is sort of suspicious to -- of the american federation of labor. he works, we'll see next time, with the industrial workers of the world. but he also is a unifying factor in the -- in the socialist party, but he goes way beyond that. during his career, he literally spoke to millions of americans.
he was beloved by far more people than voted socialist. he was quintessentially american. i mean, he came from indiana. he -- he spoke the language of american society. even to the point of telling dialect jokes and things like that. but he was the guy -- he was beloved by the jewish immigrants of new york city and the prairie populists of kansas and nebraska and oklahoma. because debs' socialism is what you might call the socialism of the heart. he was not theoretical. he -- he just spoke the language of outrage against injustice. that's what debs spoke of. capitalism was -- and to do that, he drew on american language. the declaration of independence, all men are created equal, and christian language. he, himself, was not a religious man at all. he was more of a reader,
follower of thomas payne, but kind of christian radicalism of, you know, jesus throwing the money to changers out of the temple and things like that. the evil of riches. he opposed talk of violence, of sabotage. he spoke -- he said, again, socialism would come through democratic means, through elections, through organization. and, you know, maybe the best way to summarize him is through his great speech. we'll hear more about this. in 1918 when he is jailed for opposing american involvement in world war i. he gives his famous speech at his sentencing where he says, while there is a lower class, i am in it. while there is a criminal element, i am of it. while there is a soul in prison, i am not free. so he sort of put himself as the representative of the, you know, the oppressed groups in american
society. but debs is not a politician. even though he runs for president over and over again, he's not really a politician. he's not interested in the battles within the socialist party, and as a result of that, generally speaking on the national party level, which is really not where the party operates, the sort of conservative more right wing or moderate socialists are in control, but at the grassroots, there's always this battle. finally, there's one other element, a rather obscure element of the party called the foreign language federations. immigrants who organize socialist federations in their own foreign -- in their own indigenous language and often because they did not speak english, and they had their own newspapers, their own publications, and often the other socialists had no idea what they were doing or saying. i mean, you had to read finnish if you wanted to find out what the finnish socialist federation was doing. so they were kind of out there
as a, you know, as a kind of wildcard group organizing socialism among various immigrant groups. i mentioned the finns because they were one of the most radical groups. i don't know if anyone here is of finnish ancestry, but up in the upper midwest in michigan, in the mining areas, michigan, minnesota, wisconsin, the finns are a major part of the -- the finnish federation a major part of the socialist movement. one might also say the two biggest groups in the socialist movement of new immigrants, not the germans, are immigrants from the russian empire. jews and finns. finland at that time is part of the czarist empire. people who flee the empire are pretty riled up about things and maybe more attracted to socialism. i once went to a paper at a conference about this, given by a woman who had grown up in a finnish radical family and she's
talking about her -- this is a while ago -- her mother who had been an immigrant before world war i and i guess this one was born here, but she said, i brought their -- you know, the finns brought their radicalism with them. she said, my mother's ambition, my mother's dream for me is i would be the person who assassinated the czar. you want to grow up and do something useful? assassinate the czar, then you make something good of yourself. there were also slavic federations, italian federations, but that's a whole other group in the socialist party. it's hard to know exactly what they were doing. so anyway, in 1912, 100 years ago, right, we are entering now a presidential campaign which will last -- we're in it -- will last until november. 1912 was one of the most momentous presidential campaigns in american history. remember the four-way campaign. very unusual in american politics. the only other time we had four
credible candidates for president was 1860, i think. so you had president william howard taft representing the sort of mainstream republicans. you had ex-president theodore roosevelt, right, running as candidate of the new progressive party. roosevelt had broken off from the republicans on the grounds that taft was undermining some of his progressive reforms from when he had been president. and formed this new so-called bull moose party or progressive party and the progressive party platform of 1912 is well worth reading. it is the blueprint for 20th century liberalism. modern liberalism is the working out of the progressive party platform of 1912 in some ways. some of it is implemented in the new deal, some is implemented in the great society, some of it, like universal health insurance, has still not been implemented 100 years later.
then, of course, there was woodrow wilson running as the democratic party candidate. also a progressive. every one of these three people claimed to be part of the progressive movement and claimed to have an answer to the inequalities of wealth and corporate power. and then there was eugene debs, running as the socialist candidate. not likely to win but a part of the political campaign. and in 1912, socialism appeared to be a rising force. not only in the united states, but elsewhere. in germany. the social democratic party, the largest in the west, had almost a majority of the parliament. they seemed to be on the verge of coming to power through electoral -- through the electoral process in germany. in finland, the social democrats were up around 40% of the vote in that district. in austria, 25%. in britain, the labor party
which had a socialist platform, was a major factor in british politics. so in 1912 of course wilson is elected. theodore roosevelt comes in second, taft, and then debs has his over 900,000 votes, or 6% of the total. debs gets 6% of the total. not a tremendous amount, but enough to be a factor in the election. in the same year, max hayes, running as a socialist for president of the american federation of labor, against samuel gompers, gets one-third of the vote in the american federation of labor annual convention. so there is a socialist presence there. the largest weekly periodical in the nation is a socialist magazine called "the appeal to reason" which had over 700,000 subscribers. more than "the saturday evening post" or "harper's" magazine, or
things like that. which the appeal to reason -- i'm going to show you something from the appeal to reason here. it published all sorts of articles, some of them odd. we'll see this in a minute. articles about socialism, articles about capitalism by debs, side by side with all sorts of oddball ads. here are some ads. here you have helen keller's book "out of the dark," keller a socialist, people don't remember that when they talk about her work for the blind. socialist pennants. socialist move with the movies. get into the culture. et cetera, et cetera. socialist watch at an antitrust price. they had ads for gold stocks and patent medicines and medicines
to cure the ills of weight, slavery, things like that. it was a popular and kind of off-beat, but serious magazine. their most popular columnist was a guy called warbling wilber. every week, and one agent, louie clam roth, on a bicycle, traveled around the great plains and sold over 100,000 subscriptions to the appeal to reason. but it was only 1 of 300 socialist newspapers and magazines in the country in that year. in new york city, the jewish daily fallward here in new york, a daily yiddish newspaper had 150,000 daily readers. the national ripsaw, another 150,000 readers. the socialist party was not only concentrated among workers, but among -- as i say, small farmers, small towns. a few ethnic groups.
not all, by any means. even a few millionaires joined the socialist party. most prominently gaylord wilshire, after whom wilshire boulevard in l.a. is named. the socialist party attracted intellectuals like upton sinclair and jack london. middle class reformers -- we'll talk about them pretty soon -- charlotte perkins gillman and margaret sanger came out of the socialist milleau. many women suffrage advocates are connected with socialism. socialism is coming, says the peal to reason in 1912. socialism is coming. it's coming like a prairie fire. nothing can stop it. the next few years will give the nation to the socialist party. this optimism. but, if you look more closely in 1912, you would also see some real serious weaknesses.
the socialist party was not attracting the new immigrant working class, the factory workers, the people who were transforming, once again, the nature of american work and working class life. the working class is being remade again by massive immigration, but outside new york city, most of the socialist appeal is to either old immigrants, not the new ones, or middle class or lower middle class farmers, et cetera, et cetera. the real challenge was how could they appeal to the new immigrant worker in the heart of american industry, if they're going to claim to be the party of workers. next time we will see how the socialist party and the industrial workers of the world tries to address this problem of how to organize the new industrial proletariat. so that's all for today.
this weekend c-span's city tour along with our comcast cable partners will explore michigan. on book tv we'll talk with the author and learn the role railroads play. >> the container movement, particularly the connection of the shipping containers moving over from china and indoe nearby yeah and elsewhere, railroads are very much a part of that route. and so when you two to say california where there's large shipping facilities, the
railroads are right there, right alongside the container ships and they're the ones who help get it to the next route. then mike con nell talks about the rich history of port heron, its importance to michigan's economy and the current state of economy in the city. >> 1990s were a thriving economy, not just in the statewide, but also locally. doing really pretty well. things collapsed about the year 2000, and in year 2000, if you go by household median household income, michigan is one of the well thinkiest states. by 2008 we're one of the poorest states. >> we'll visit the train depot where thomas ed son worked as a young boy. we'll also speak with the museum's manager. >> we have a recreation of his
chemical laboratory and prints equipment where he was the first person to print a newspaper on a moving train. he had access to the latest news through the telegraph agents at the train offices and would get that news right hot off the presses. >> we'll then tour the lighthouse, the first lighthouse in the state of michigan. this weekend watch c-span's city's hour to port hur ron and sunday afternoon at 2:00 on american history tv an c-span 3. working with our cable affiliates and visits cities across the country. the kr span radio app makes it easy to follow the election. it is free to download from the apple store or audio play. get up to the minute schedule information for c-span radio and c-span television plus podcast times. stay up-to-date on all the
election coverage. c-span's radio app means you always have c-span on the go. now the contenders, the series on key political figures who ran for president and last but nevertheless changed political history. tonight we feature you gene debs. this was recorded at debs home in indiana. this is american history tv only on c-span 3. >> our featured contender is eugene v. debs. at the turn of the 20th century, a five-time candidate for president on the socialist ticket and the nation's most celebrated world war i protester. this december 1921 footage captures debs on his return to his hometown of terre haute,