Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls
from: althouse.blogspot.com

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Clearer words were never spoken



Every historical moment is unique. Yet certain themes recur with stunning regularity across space and time. The unholy alliance of excessive economic dominance, and government power, is one such familiar spectacle. If Eugene Debs returned to us tomorrow, he could pretty much dust off the same speech he gave in Chicago on November 22, 1895:

If liberty is a birthright which has been wrested from the weak by the strong, or has been placed in peril by those who were commissioned to guard it as Gheber priests watch the sacred fires they worship, what is to be done? Leaving all other nations, kindred and tongues out of the question, what is the duty of Americans? Above all, what is the duty of American workingmen whose liberties have been placed in peril? They are not hereditary bondsmen. Their fathers were free born—their sovereignty none denied and their children yet have the ballot. It has been called “a weapon that executes a free man’s will as lighting does the will of God.” It is a metaphor pregnant with life and truth. There is nothing in our government it can not remove or amend. It can make and unmake presidents and congresses and courts. It can abolish unjust laws and consign to eternal odium and oblivion unjust judges, strip from them their robes and gowns and send them forth unclean as lepers to bear the burden of merited obloquy as Cain with the mark of a murderer. It can sweep away trusts, syndicates, corporations, monopolies, and every other abnormal development of the money power designed to abridge the liberties of workingmen and enslave them by the degradation incident to poverty and enforced idleness, as cyclones scatter the leaves of the forest. The ballot can do all this and more. It can give our civilization its crowning glory—the co—operative commonwealth.

To the unified hosts of American workingmen fate has committed the charge of rescuing American liberties from the grasp of the vandal horde that have placed them in peril, by seizing the ballot and wielding it to regain the priceless heritage and to preserve and transmit it without scar or blemish to the generations yet to come....

Defeated at every point, their plans all frustrated, out—generaled in tactics and strategy, while the hopes of labor were brightening and victory was in sight, the corporations, goaded to desperation, played their last card in the game of oppression by an appeal to the federal judiciary and to the federal administration. To this appeal the response came quick as lightning from a storm cloud. It was an exhibition of the debauching power of money which the country had never before beheld.

The people had long been familiar with such expressions as “money talks,” “money rules,” and they had seen the effects of its power in legislatures and in congress. They were conversant with Jay Gould’s methods of gaining his legal victories by. “buying a judge” in critical cases. They had tracked this money power, this behemoth beast of prey, into every corporate enterprise evolved by our modern civilization, as hunters track tigers in India jungles, but never before in the history of the country had they seen it grasp with paws and jaws the government of the United States and bend it to its will and make it a mere travesty of its pristine grandeur.

The people had seen this money power enter the church, touch the robed priest at the altar, blotch his soul, freeze his heart and make him a traitor to his consecrated vows and send him forth a Judas with a bag containing the price of his treason; or, if true to his conviction, ideas and ideals, to suffer the penalty of ostracism, to be blacklisted and to seek in vain for a sanctuary in which to expound Christ’s doctrine of the brotherhood of man.

The people had seen this money power enter a university and grasp a professor and hurl him headlong into the street because every faculty of mind, redeemed by education and consecrated to truth, pointed out and illumined new pathways to the goal of human happiness and national glory.

The people had seen this money power practicing every art of duplicity, growing more arrogant and despotic as it robbed one and crushed another, building its fortifications of the bones of its victims, and its palaces out of the profits of its piracies, until purple and fine linen on the one side and rags upon the other side, defined conditions as mountain ranges and rivers define the boundaries of nations—palaces on the hills, with music and dancing and the luxuries of all clinics, earth, air and sea—huts in the valley, dark and dismal, where the music is the dolorous “song of the shirt” and the luxuries rags and crusts.

If not for the pioneering efforts of Eugene Debs, our nation could never have embraced the less radical New Deal of FDR. What we need in 2012 is someone to clearly advocate for working people in the public sphere. Not just in defense of unions, but on behalf of all of us who produce the wealth so greedily snatched up by those who pile it up in their off-shore accounts.

3 comments:

Motivated In Ohio said...

We need an intervention, America has a Koch problem.

cranstonista said...

The only intervention that will work, is to use the ballot Eugene Debs spoke about. Elect new people who aren't corporate toadies.

Cletis L. Stump said...

Debs and others like him are being written out of our history books. Labor's greatest threat is the failure of our schools and communities to inform young people about the issues and how we got to where we are.