Eugene V Debs
Speech at Girard, Kansas, 1908
Now my friends, I am opposed to the system of society in which we live today, not because I lack the natural equipment to do for myself but because I am not satisfied to make myself comfortable knowing that there are thousands of my fellow men who suffer for the barest necessities of life. We were taught under the old ethic that man's business on this earth was to look out for himself. That was the ethic of the jungle; the ethic of the wild beast. Take care of yourself, no matter what may become of your fellow man. Thousands of years ago the question was asked; ''Am I my brother's keeper?'' That question has never yet been answered in a way that is satisfactory to civilized society.
Yes, I am my brother's keeper. I am under a moral obligation to him that is inspired, not by any maudlin sentimentality but by the higher duty I owe myself. What would you think me if I were capable of seating myself at a table and gorging myself with food and saw about me the children of my fellow beings starving to death.
If there is a man on this earth who is entitled to all the comforts and luxuries of this life in abundance, it is the man whose labor produces them. If he is not, who is? Does he get them in the present system?
Why should any man, woman, or child suffer for food, clothing, or shelter? Why? The question cannot be answered. Don't tell me that some men are too lazy to work. Suppose they are too lazy to work, what do you think of a social system that produces men too lazy to work? if a man is too lazy to work, don't treat him with contempt. Don't treat him with scorn as if you were a superior being. If there is a man who is too lazy to work, there is something the matter with him. He wasn't born right or he was perverted in this system. You could not, if you tried, keep a normal man inactive, and if you did he would go stark mad. Go to any penitentiary and you will find the men there begging for the privilege of doing work.
I know by close study of the question exactly how men become idle. I don't repel them when I meet them. I have never yet seen a tramp I was not able to receive with open arms. He is a little less fortunate than I am. He is made the same as I am made. He is a child of the same Father. Had I been born in his environment, had I been subjected to the same things to which he was, I would have been where he is.
Now, we Socialists propose that society in its collective capacity shall produce, not for profit but in abundance to satisfy human wants; that every man shall have the inalienable right to work and receive the full equivalent of all he produces; that every man may stand fearlessly erect in the pride and majesty of his own manhood.
Every man and every woman will then be economically free. They can, without let or hindrance, apply their labor, with the best machinery that can be devised, to all the natural resources, do the work of society and produce for all; and then receive in exchange a certificate of value equivalent to that of their production. Then society will improve its institutions in proportion to the progress of invention. Whether in the city or on the farm, all things productive will be carried forward on a gigantic scale. All industry will be completely organized. Society will for the first time have a scientific foundation. Every man, by being economically free, will have some time for himself. He can then take a full and perfect breath. He can enjoy life with his wife and children because he will have a home.
We are not going to destroy private property. We are going to establish
private property -- all the private property necessary to house man, keep him in comfort,
and satisfy his wants. Eighty percent of the people of the United States have no property.
A few have got it all. They have dispossessed the people, and when we get into power, we
will dispossess them. We will reduce the workday and give every man a chance. We will go
to the parks, and we will have music, because we will have time to play music and desire
to hear it.
Is it not sad to think that not one in a thousand knows what music is? Is it not pitiable to see the poor, dumb, ignorant human utterly impervious to the divine influences of music? if humanity could only respond to the higher influences! And it would if it had time.
Release the animal, throw off his burden; give him a chance and he rises as if magic to the plane of a man. Man has all of the divine attributes. They are in a latent state. They are not yet developed. It does not pay now to love music. Keep your eye in the almighty dollar and your fellow man. Get the dollar and keep him down. Make him produce for you. You are not your brother's keeper. Suppose he is poor! Suppose his wife is forced into prostitution! Suppose his child is deformed! And suppose he shuffles off by destroying himself! What is that to you?
But you ought to be ashamed. Take the standard home and look it in the face. If you know what that standard means, and you are a success, God help the failure!
Our conduct is determined by our economic relations. If you and I must fight each other to exist, will not love each other very hard. We can go to the same church and hear the same minister tell us in good conscience that we ought to love each other, and the next day we approach some business transaction....
Do we remember what the minister told us? No; it is gone until next Sunday. Six days of the week we are following the Golden Rule reversed. Now, when we approach a business transaction in competition, what is more natural than that we should try to get the better of it?--get the better of our fellow man-- cheat him if we can?
And if you succeed, that fixes you as a businessman. You have all the necessary qualifications. Don't let your conscience disturb you.--that would interfere with business.
Competition was natural enough at one time, but do you think you are competing today? Many of you think you are competing. Against whom? Against Rockefeller? About as I would if I had a wheelbarrow and competed with the Santa Fe from here to Kansas City. That is about the way f competing but your boys will not have even that chance--if capitalism lives that long. You hear of the ''late'' panic. It is very late. It is going to be very late. Then panic will be with us five years from now, and will continue till then.
I am not a prophet. I can no more penetrate the future than you can. I do study the forces that underlie society and the trend of evolution. I can tell by what we have passed through about what we will have in the future; and I know that capitalism can be abolished and the people put in possession. Now, when we have taken possession and we jointly own the means of production, we will no longer have to fight each other to live; our interests, instead of being competitive, will be cooperative. We will work side by side. Your interest will be mine and mine will be yours. That is the economic condition from which will spring the humane social relation of the future.
When we are in partnership and have stopped clutching each other's throats, when we have stopped enslaving each other,we will stand together, hands clasped, and be friends. we will be comrades, we will be brothers, and we will begin the march to the grandest civilization the human race has ever known.