What Socialism Demands Debs

The question of the time is not what are the advantages and disadvantages of socialism, but whether it is right or wrong.

When I went to jail in 1895, I was not a socialist. I had never even heard of socialism.

I am often asked if I became a socialist through being in prison and associating with socialists there. Never mind associating with socialists; there wasn’t one in the place.”

As my friends know, I have always been an avid reader, but no books on socialism ever came into my hands until after my release from jail. The first work on the subject that I read was written by Karl Marx — Das Kapital — and its effect upon me was as terrific as a bombshell.

What does socialism demand?

Socialism is not a dogma. It is the living, acting, fighting faith of the people in their own capacity and power. The problem of socialism does not consist in finding out how much value there is in what it demands, but rather in making sure that these demands are satisfied.

Socialism does not stand for any particular system of production or distribution; it stands for the means to satisfy human wants and needs on a basis consistent with democratic control over them by all interested parties; it stands for an organized society where no one would be motivated by profit alone; where individual ability will be rewarded according to its actual contribution to social life and work; where everyone will have equal opportunity to develop their abilities (the right to work); where health services and educational opportunities would be available equally without charge; where all public utilities would be owned by government but operated democratically through local boards elected directly by those who use them or whose labor produces them (public ownership); where inequalities between rich and poor are reduced as much as possible through taxes on inheritances, incomes above $3 million (or whatever), gifts over $10 million (or whatever) made within two years after death.”

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Debs says that it is a mistake to think one can become a socialist overnight or by reading something or by being a listener.

Debs says that it is a mistake to think one can become a socialist overnight or by reading something or by being a listener. Socialism is a process, way of life, way of thinking, way of acting, way of feeling, and doing. He tells us socialism demands an all-around change in the lives of men and women in every walk of life.

Socialism cannot be taught, but it can be caught.

Socialism demands the re-education of humanity. It cannot be taught, but it can be caught. This is a process which begins with the individual and extends to every social relationship and institution in which people live their lives.

Socialism involves a new way of thinking about how we relate to others and how we contribute to society—not only in terms of our labor power, but also in terms of our ability and desire to think critically about ourselves and what we need from others. In short, this means that socialism requires us all to become more conscious citizens who are willing not only to work together toward a common goal (such as ending capitalism), but also know when they need help from one another in order for this goal to become a reality

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Debs wants to counter the charge that communism means disorder and disorder in industry means a breakdown in production.

Socialism, then, is a system of production based on the principle of cooperation. It demands that we recognize each other as human beings and demand that we work together for the good of all. If everyone were to do their part, he says:

Cooperation would be substituted for competition; instead of producing profit and accumulating wealth for a few, there would be produced useful things for the many; and instead of a struggle between individuals there would be co-operation in useful labor.”

Socialism does not represent the interests of some classes, but the interests of all classes.

Socialism is not a class interest, but the interests of all classes. Socialism represents not the rights of some, but the rights of all. The workers have no quarrel with capital as such. They do not object to its existence or function in production. Their quarrel is with capital as an instrument which enriches its owners at their expense and which places them under subjection to owners who are concerned only for their own profit and power regardless of consequences to others who work for them.

Socialism does not represent an attempt on the part of any one class to seize power; it simply means that society will assume control over industry because this alone can guarantee economic security and social justice for all members of society without distinction between rich and poor, between employer or employee, capitalist or laborer.[2]

The workers are the creators of wealth and capitalists are those who monopolize wealth created by workers

“The workers are the creators of wealth,” he writes, “and capitalists are those who monopolize wealth created by workers.” He goes on to explain that it is not just a matter of fairness or justice: socialism is the only way to organize an economy because capitalism cannot function without exploiting one class or another.

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Socialist writers in America have historically argued that socialism could be achieved through peaceful means—by educating workers about their rights and how they were being exploited by capitalist bosses, gradually building up enough popular support for reforms like universal healthcare or greater workplace safety laws until we had built up enough momentum that even the most conservative lawmakers would give in to public pressure and pass them into law. But Debs believed this was naïve: “socialism cannot be attained except by revolution.” If capitalists refuse to give up power when their economic system fails (as they always do), then workers must take matters into their own hands and seize control from them with force—even if that means going against elected officials who support socialistic policies but won’t stand up against corporations


The great mass of the workers of this country, who are intelligent, industrious, and honest, can be depended upon to do what is right when they realize their power. They alone create all wealth and they alone can control its distribution; logically and justly they should have it all. This is not communism or any other “ism” but common sense. The worker who produces something should get it; that is only fair and right.

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