Why was Debsian Socialism and Its Reaction a Product of his Time?
High School Level Readings and Worksheets
Eugene Debs ran for president five times—including once from prison—as a candidate for the Socialist Party of America. His campaigns from 1900 to 1920 took place during periods of great economic change due to industrialization, labor unrest, and World War I. At the same time, socialism and communism were gaining strength in Europe and there was domestic fear that our socio-economic system would soon be under threat as well.
Attached on the right side bar are two readings and worksheets concerning Eugene Debs. The first one allows students to analyze how the changing nature of the American economy helped shape Debs' view of socialism. The second activity has students assess whether the United States government was justified in using the Espionage Act to silence socialists who opposed American involvement in World War I.
The following excerpt is taken from a July 2019 Carnegie Council podcast entitled "The Crack Up: Eugene Debs & the Origins of Socialism in the U.S., with Maurice Isserman." The podcast is based off The New York Times opinion piece "America's Original Socialist" written by historian Maurice Isserman.
Additional Teaching Ideas: When teaching about Franklin D. Roosevelt's "New Deal" circle back to Eugene Debs policy proposals. Students can analyze why Roosevelt was able to pass social welfare and collective bargaining programs that seemed radical when suggested by Debs and the Socialist Party of America.