Eugene Debs: The First Socialist Candidate for President

American Socialist: The Life and Times of Eugene Debs

Directed by Yale Strom (2018)

Film Review

Many analysts on the left are comparing “socialist” Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign to that of social Eugene Debs 100 years ago. As portrayed in this film, Debs was very different than I imagined him to be. I had always pictured him as a bookish intellectual.  He was actually more of a populist like Donald Trump

Born in 1855, in 1893, he co-founded the American Railway Union (ARU) and was instrumental in the 1894 Pullman strike involving 250,000 workers across 27 states. In 1895, he was imprisoned for the first time for after the ARU violated a federal injunction ordering strikers back to work. It was during his first imprisonment that a friend introduced him to socialism by giving him a copy of Das Kapital to read.

Following his release, he co-founded the Socialist Party of America. He was their presidential candidate in 1900,1904, 1908, 1912, 1916, and 1920. Rather than focusing on theoretical socialist concepts, his campaigns preached a kind of “liberation theology,”*, focusing on the social precepts (love, cooperation, compassion for the poor) promoted in the New Testament.

In 1904, Debs’ campaign team held massive evangelical-style camp meetings highlighting the plight of Southern tenant farmers.

In 1912, Debs helped found the anarchist-leaning International Workers of the World (IWW), the only union representing women, blacks, tenant farmers, and other low income groups. Bill Haywood, an IWW co-founder, was also a member of the Socialist Party’s executive committee. In 1912, Debs got 1 million votes, which was 6% of the popular vote.

In 1917, there was a split in the Socialist Party, when Woodrow Wilson entered World War I by declaring war on Germany. Debs, who opposed the war, was arrested in 1918 for violating the Espionage Act.** In 1920, he became the first person to run for president from a prison cell, receiving 3.4% of the popular vote.

Inspired by the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, by 1924 most of Debs’ socialist comrades had become communists. In that election, Debs campaigned for Progressive Party candidate Robert LaFollette, who received 5 million votes (17% of the popular vote).


*Liberation theology, prominent throughout Latin American during the 20th century, is a belief system combines Christianity’s social concern for the poor with a drive for oppressed people’s political liberation.

**Among other provisions, the Espionage Act makes it illegal to interfere with armed forced recruitment while the US is at war.

Anyone with a public library card can view this documentary free on Kanopy. Type “Kanopy” and the name of your library into your search engine to register.

 

 

 

Mumia Abu Jamal: Book 2 of Murder Incorporated

Murder Incorporated

Book 2: America’s Favorite Past time

By Mumia Abu-Jamal and Stephen Vittoria

Prison Radio (2019)

Book Review

Book 2 of the Murder Incorporated series begins where Dreaming of Empire (Book 1) leaves off. By this point, I  have absolutely no doubt these are the US history textbooks my daughter and I should have been given in high school. They are a superb resource for the growing home school movement.

Having covered slavery, the brutal and systematic genocide of indigenous Americans and the US invasion and occupation of Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines in Book 1, America’s Favorite Pastime starts with Woodrow Wilson, his scores of invasions of Central and South America and Haiti and his entry, in 1917, into the bloodbath known as World War I. Wilson was heavily swayed in this decision by a letter from Wall Street banker J P Morgan. The latter had loaned heavily to the France and England, was at risk of losing a fortune if they suffered defeat.

Unlike most history books, America’s Favorite Pastime focuses heavily on public opposition to the World War I, Wilson’s massive pro-war propaganda machine and his systematic suppression of constitutional rights (via the Palmer Raids, the Espionage Act and the Sedition Act). The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was founded in 1920 specifically to assist antiwar activists and conscientious objectors who were still in prison for speaking out against the war.

The authors go on to detail the 1918 invasion of the Soviet Union by the US, UK, France and Japan – a historical event censored out of most history courses, even at the university level.

Most of the book focuses on the so-called “Good War,” directly challenging the myth that the West had to go to war in 1939 to prevent the victory of global fascism. In addition to examining the role of various Wall Street corporations in arming Hitler’s war machine (including IBM, which created and managed the data system enabling Nazi’s to efficiently track down occupied Europe’s Jews), the authors discuss the numerous peace overtures Hitler made to Churchill in 1940. Which the latter categorically rejected.

They also discuss Hitler’s unsuccessful attempts to get the West to accept Jewish refugees.

This chapter details the forced internment and asset confiscation of 120,000 Japanese Americans in 1942 (of which 2/3 were US citizens and a majority children), as well as the war crimes committee by the Allies in firebombing Dresden, Tokyo and other cities and in dropping a nuclear bomb on the civilian population of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The book provides the same detailed coverage of the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the US-sponsored Indonesia and genocidal occupation of East Timor, and the numerous undeclared wars and drug trafficking operations undertaken by paramilitary operation known as the CIA.

The final chapters are devoted to a blow-by-blow description of Eisenhower’s creation of the Military Industrial and the complex and systematic indoctrination young Americans receive to dupe them into enlisting in America’s “all volunteer” army.


*There were some here I hadn’t heard of previously: the overthrow of democratically elected governments in Greece (twice,), Brazil, the Philippines, and the Dominican Republic – as well as the constant sabotage, terrorism and psyops against East Germany – which were the real reason the Berlin Wall was built.

 

 

 

Shredding the Constitution: Obama’s War on Whistleblowers

War on Whistleblowers: Free Press and the National Security State

Robert Greenwald (2015)

Film Review

War on Whistleblowers details the cases of four US whistleblowers who experienced severe government retaliation after exposing systematic wrongdoing to journalists.

The men profiled are marine Franz Gaye, who broke the story about the Pentagon refusal to replace Humvees with much safer MRAPs in the US occupation of Iraq; NSA senior executive Thomas Drake, who first blew the whistle on illegal NSA mass surveillance; Lockheed-Martin engineer Michael DeKort, who broke the story that Lockheed was supplying the Coast Guard with substandard boats and radios that weren’t waterproof; and Department of Justice lawyer Jim Risen, who first exposed the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretaps.

Their stories are interspersed with commentary by iconic whistleblowers Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden (via Internet linkup), as well as the handful of journalists who have been brave enough to publish evidence of government corruption and criminality and members of the Project on Government Oversight and the Project for Government Accountability.

Each of the four whistleblowers went up his workplace chain of command in his agency and exhausted every option for addressing the problem internally. Each was fully aware of the potential consequences of their actions of going to the press. Yet after much soul searching, they saw whistle blowing as a preferable alternative than to colluding in their superiors’ criminality.

Paying the Price

Only Gaye was allowed to resume his career as an active duty marine. DeKort had his Lockheed position cancelled and was blackballed from further work in the defense industry. In addition to losing their jobs, both Drake and Risen experienced financial ruin, spending tens of thousands of dollars fighting felony charges the Obama Justice Department brought against them. Drake was charged under the Espionage Act, even though the information he shared with the Baltimore Sun was unclassified.

After seven years of persecution by the Justice Department, Drake eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor: excessive use of a computer without authorization. The charges against Risen were dropped after four years of legal battles.

The Distinction Between Leaking and Whistle Blowing

The film makes the clear distinction between leaking and whistleblowing. High level Obama administration officials constantly leak classified information to the press with no legal consequences.

Despite his campaign promises to make government more transparent and accountable, Obama has significantly increased government secrecy, as well as prosecuting more whistleblowers than all other presidents combined.

According to Snowden, the President’s purpose isn’t to make Americans more secure. It’s to protect government agencies and politicians from embarrassment a criminal prosecution.

His crackdown on whistleblowers is also a fundamental violation of the First Amendment. The whole intent of freedom of speech and the press is to ensure citizens’ right to criticize their government without being punished.