“AMERICAN SOCIALIST: The Life & Times of Eugene V. Debs”
A Man of Progressive Ideas
Yale Strom’s new documentary looks at the life and times of Eugene Victor Debs, the man whose progressive ideas fueled generations to follow. Quite simply, “American Socialist” traces the history and evolution of the Progressive movement in America from its founding by Debs to its impact in today’s political and social landscape.
The film shows that Eugene V, Debs, was instrumental in organizing the first labor unions in the U.S., fought vigilantly for worker’s rights, and was a vocal critic of World War I – which landed him in jail. Debs was also a founding member of the Socialist Party of America. He was willing to go to prison two times for his political beliefs and values – always standing up for the worker and going to to prison the second time when he was in his late 60s, and when he was not in good health meant he was taking a chance on his life for a principle.
Debs e was able, in his folksy manner, to describe simply and directly what and why socialism was a better economic system to live under than capitalism. He reached farmers, immigrants (many who spoke little to no English), tenant workers, factory workers, as well as well educated professionals and clergy. He never spoke down to his constituents. Debs never won the presidency but he did get 6% of the vote – a million votes, and when he supported LaFollete in his run for President in 1925, the Progressive and Socialist Parties together got 17% of the vote – so there was national interest in his brand of socialism.
Most Americansdid not understand the differences of what Debs and other socialists were preaching, so the right-wing activists just lumped socialism with Soviet communism. He would be surprised and dismayed to see how Unions have lost so much power in America. He would also see that many workers in America, because they do not read, are not well informed or are misled easily by right-wing talk radio, often vote against their own interests. Debs saw this clearly in his times.
Much of what Debs spoke about resonates with the American public today. This is one of the reasons why I made this film. Bernie Sanders did not garner millions of votes and many delegates during his 2016 run for the presidency “because of a fluke.” The left is no longer willing to just let the middle of the road Democrats run things or let them say we have to compromise with the other side.